Moderation, average, reasonable, middle of the road, not too hot, not too cold…just right. Is there anything more boring than moderation? Maybe not, but taking it easy may just be the key to better health that you need.
We get so crazy in our attempts to stay healthy. First, fat of any kind was the Satan of the diet world. Now it’s carbohydrates. We gobble down vitamins and supplements as though our very existence depended on it. If a little exercise is good, then lots and lots must be better, so marathons, triathlons, and week long or ultra distance athletic events abound. There is no end to the foolishness in the health and wellness world.
Perhaps moderation is the answer.
Boring maybe, but moderation is one of the pillars of Chinese medicine and one of my simple steps to better health. The reality is that most things that are good for you are good in small doses. When overdone, those good things can deplete you physically or cause stagnation (blockages of energy, food, blood, or other substances). Here are some examples and the implications of under or over doing it within the framework of Chinese medicine.
Sleep. You’ve heard this over and over. You need about eight hours a night. Some people may need a little less and others a little more. Regardless of exactly how much, you need enough sleep because your body and mind rejuvenate while you’re sawing wood. If you don’t get enough sleep, over time, you will become depleted, which is something akin to being a walking Zombie—not enough energy, no focus, and you start to get crabby. Too much sleep and you pretty much become a couch spud. That’s not a technical term, but your Qi, or energy, needs movement to flow effectively, and if you’re sleeping the day away, you’re creating a stagnation of energy and dampness (ahem, fat).
Movement. This is a little like sleep. If you’re moving too much in the form of exercise, you are setting yourself up to become depleted. A prime example of this is my marathoner friend who looks like a whippet, but seems to catch every cold or flu that’s going around. At the other end of the spectrum not moving your body sets you up for stagnation.
Movement may be psychological, emotional, or spiritual in nature, too. If you’re stuck in a rut without any emotional movement, you’re a prime candidate for Qi stagnation, which can look a lot like depression. Too much movement in the form of change, over commitment, or stressful events can wipe you out, both physically and psychologically.
Sunshine. Who doesn’t like the feel of a little sunshine, especially here in the north country? In fact, you need a little sun on your skin each day in order for your body to synthesize Vitamin D, which boosts immunity, helps build bones, and even helps to alleviate depression. Can you overdo the sun? Of course—I have seared into my mind a vision of a woman I saw sunbathing in Hawaii years ago. It was midday, the sun was blazing. Her skin was burnt crispy and covered with a sun rash, but she wasn’t leaving the poolside until she was sufficiently tanned.
In Chinese medicine, the sun is pure Yang—it’s hot, light, warms us up and dries us out. And yes, a lifetime of too much sun creates a physical dryness that no amount of moisturizer is going to undo. This kind of dryness is considered damage to your body’s fluids, and is the cause of wrinkles, age spots, broken blood vessels, and it just plain looks bad.
Food. Where to start? Eating a wide variety of foods ensures that you’re getting all the nutrients you need in your gas tank. Remember when we were cutting the fat out of everything? Now we’re a little smarter and know that there are good fats and bad fats, and we know that we need fats, and we need a balance between the Omega 6 fats (mostly animal based) we eat and the Omega 3’s (mostly plant based and fish) for good health.
Sugar is also one of those foods that has moved to the dark side, too. In Chinese medicine, each of your internal organs is associated with a flavor, and your Spleen/Stomach is all about sweets. According to the Chinese, you need a little something sweet after a meal to aid in your digestion. Centuries ago, this meant fennel seeds, a few dates, or some other dried fruit. That’s fine, but today, the sweets we tuck into after a meal are very sweet, fat laden bombs that only serve to mess up your digestion. In fact, when I see patients in the clinic who have really severe sugar cravings, I know that their digestion needs some help.
Vitamins. Remember for a moment that the role of vitamin supplementation is only to deal with deficiencies. However, many people are taking tons of vitamin and mineral supplements that they don’t need, and which pass right through them. The very real possibility is that over supplementation may be throwing your body chemistry out of whack.
The flip side is the occasional patient that I see who survives entirely on fast food, but doesn’t take any kind of vitamin supplement at all. They may be okay just eating from the Burger Doodle and the Quick Chick, but I’m guessing not. They’re the ones who might benefit from a really good multiple vitamin.
Yes, the idea of moderation is boring, especially in a world that demands quick fixes and magic bullets. The reality, however, is moderation may be just what you need.