The body is a complete, self-healing entity. It instinctively knows when it’s out of balance and what to do about it. (Our analytical minds quite often disallow connection with this instinct or argue and debate with it when it arises, but that’s a whole different story ;).)
Food cravings are a good example of this innate knowing and self-healing ability in action. One of my first ‘rules’ of diet therapy is to really pay attention to your appetite. When do you get hungry, and of paramount importance, here – What are you hungry for?
Cravings are, by definition, a strong desire for a certain type or flavor of food, and so the body is helping us follow the above rule. A craving is hard to ignore, which is all the more reason to give it that attention.
In this series of posts we’re borrowing from a hundred generations of clinical experience to help us heed the inner calling of our bodies to return to balance. Chinese medicine has collected a tremendous amount of information on health and healing, and diet is one of the most basic areas upon which its expertise can shed a lot of light.
Thus far, we’ve learned that sweetness is associated with the digestive system (specifically, the spleen and stomach), and that it strengthens and relaxes the body. Saltiness is associated with the kidney system which, from a Chinese medical understanding, has to do with our fundamental reserves and basic drive in life.
We covered how, when heeding our cravings, we should strive to consume flavors in naturally occurring states and in moderation (leaning towards too little, rather than too much).
The craving for spicy foods is quite prevalent, for reasons which will soon become obvious. Spicy, also referred to as ‘pungent’, corresponds with the lung and large intestine systems, and its effect in the body is to promote circulation of energy and blood, clear heat, and assist digestion.
From a Chinese medical viewpoint, stress, frustration, anger, irritation (as well as guilt and depression) are all due to energy obstruction (specifically, Liver qi stagnation) or the internal heat generated from such obstruction. As spicy flavors move energy and clear heat, it is pretty clear why such foods are so popular. We tend to be a bit stressed, as a society ;)
In addition, spicy aids in digestion. We also tend to eat too much at a sitting and eat poorly, resulting in very poor digestion. Instinctively, our bodies know that if it can get some spicy stuff in there, it’ll get help with trying to digest that huge meal. (Now, if we gave our full attention to our instincts, we wouldn’t over eat or eat inappropriately, but, again, another story for another time. :))
It’s important to bring up that heeding cravings won’t completely ‘balance out’ bad dietary habits. Dousing that humongous burrito with hot sauce will aid in digestion, but it’s still gonna take a toll. And such minor alterations are definitely helpful, but if you’re steering your car towards the edge of a cliff, simply reducing the speed only buys you some time. Ultimately, you need to turn around… just sayin’. :)
It’s worth mentioning that spicy food that makes you break a sweat may just save you from a cold, if you can catch the cold in the very early stages, when you have chills and fever. If it’s gonna work it’ll have near-immediate effects. Worth a shot!
In the next, and last, post, we’ll cover bitterness and sourness.