Pulse of Oriental Medicine: Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks
Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks


New Year's Diet Resolution:
No Deprivation Diets!

by Juliette Aiyana, LAc

To ring in the New Year, many people have resolved to go on yet another diet. Are you one of those people? Throughout the holidays many people have consumed more rich, fatty, sugary foods than they should have. Those extra holiday pounds added to the rest of the weight you want to lose could make dieting seem like an overwhelming task.

Which diet will you chose: Atkins, Fit for Life, The Zone, Weight Watchers, Raw Foods, Juicing, Cabbage Soup?

Usually our declaration that we are going on a diet is accompanied by an anguished moan. But weight loss doesn't have to be a chore. We can make it much easier to lose weight and keep it off if we shift our perceptions of dieting. The most important shift is the realization that dieting doesn't have to be about deprivation. You don't have to live on bland salads, only eating soups or prepackaged diet plan meals, or go on controversial induction or crash diets to lose weight. In fact, Oriental Medicine advises quite the opposite. Even western nutritionists agree with the Oriental viewpoint.

Balance, Not Deprivation

We advise balance, not deprivation, as the best way to achieve and maintain a healthy body. Dr. Dean Ornish, author of Eat More, Weigh Less comments on risky high protein diets, "You can lose weight from fen-phen, too, but that doesn't mean it's good for you." Likewise, Katherine Tallmadge, nutritionist and author of Diet Simple states "I've found the biggest cause of overeating is under-eating.

Planning to Succeed

Most overeating is due to poor planning. It is amazing what a well-stocked refrigerator full of delicious prepared foods does for preventing that stop to the fast food joint. Most of your cravings and uncontrolled overeating will be conquered when you feed your body what it needs regularly during the day and have the food at your fingertips when you need it. Studies show that you are most likely to eat whatever is in your environment. If you surround yourself with delicious, healthy, wholesome foods, that's what you'll end up eating."

I can vouch for Katherine Tallmadge's wisdom... once a week I prepare several meals to have at my fingertips. Every Sunday, I teach a yoga class in the morning, go food shopping. I plan the meals and grocery list ahead of time. I stop at the health food store, the grocery store and maybe even the local Italian market. Then I go home, put on loud music that makes me move, sing and dance around the kitchen while I get cookin'. I cook several meals in large batches to last the week which offer a variety of foods and flavors. I set aside a few servings in the refrigerator to eat over the next two-three days at home and in the office; then I freeze other servings for later in the week.

Great New Healthy Recipes

Experimentation with new recipes from some of my favorite magazines like Food and Wine and Gourmet keep my discriminating palate satisfied. Believe it or not those magazines have many healthful recipes. I also get recipes from Vegetarian Times, www.foodtv.com and my new favorite magazine Eating Well.

Eating Well accepts no advertising, has wonderful recipes and informative articles. It also rates the degree of difficulty of the recipes as Easy, Moderate, and/or Labor Intensive and gives you the caloric value, fat, cholesterol, carbohydrates, protein, fiber and sodium per serving.

The Raw Food Controversy

Oriental medicine teaches us to eat whole cooked foods and avoid raw foods diets and juicing as meal replacment. Avoid overeating dairy products, many of which we westerners consider healthy diet foods, such as cheese, cottage cheese, and yogurt.

The reason Oriental medicine does not advise eating raw foods and juices and dairy products is because they are classified as cold and damp. Chinese Medicine advises that, "The Spleen hates cold, the Spleen hates dampness". Cold and damp foods harm the Spleen qi. The Spleen is viewed as the vital organ for the digestion and assimilation of food whose job is to transform and transport food. It transforms the food into qi and transports the qi to other organs so that they can properly perform their functions in preserving physiological balance and harmony. When organ systems do not receive enough qi, the disharmony caused by that deprivation can lead to disease. We also want to avoid fatty, greasy fried foods, and over consumption of alcohol, (anyone out there with a beer belly?) white flour products and sugar, which are classified as cold or damp foods.

Avoid the Binge Effect

Many of my patients skip breakfast and wait until late in the day to eat lunch or even miss it, blaming a busy day at work. Then when they finally eat, they gorge on whatever is fastest. But what happens physiologically when we regularly deprive our bodies of food and then finally binge? Our body goes into a state of emergency and thinks that it has to store the calories we ate for future use. So it stores these calories as fat, an efficient fuel because it is hard to burn.

Massive Amounts of Sugar

And what if we eat a quick sugary pick me up like a candy bar or Powerbar instead of a meal? The American Heart Association's Committee on Nutrition recently informed healthcare professionals that sugar consumption promotes obesity and raises triglycerides (blood fats). Any extra calories are converted into body fat for storage, and sugar is a fuel that delivers calories with great efficiency. Extra fat on the body usually produces extra fat in the blood along with added body weight (Eating Well, Fall 2002, p20). But if we eat regularly and avoid massive amounts of sugar consumption, our bodies won't need to store as much. The body will use or burn most of the calories instead of storing them.

Sugar is hard to give up because we love and crave the sweets present in many of the products we want to eat, even in some brands of bread!

Our sugar cravings date back two million years when we would seek out sweet foods dense with energy, like ripe mangos hanging from the tree, berries clustered on the vine and honey seeping from the comb. Thousands of years later, that primitive impulse, in a land of overabundant processed foods and sedentary lifestyles, works against easy weight control and healthy energy balance. (p19). Our sedentary lifestyle is one of the reasons that I advise my patients to combine an exercise program with the dietary change. There is just no evading exercise if you want to achieve and maintain weight loss.

The USDA RDA for Sugar

The USDA recommended daily allowance (RDA) of sugar is 40 grams, but the average American over the age of two eats two times that quantity. Sugar addiction is a real and important concern. If you eat lots of sugar, it is best to reduce your intake rather than go cold turkey. Sugar stimulates the brain to produce the opioid chemicals which in turn stimulates elevated dopamine levels. Elevated dopamine levels cause us to seek out more sweets. This urge is the same chemical process that a morphine or heroin addict's brain experiences. Fortunately for sugar addicts, it is not as hard to quit. Although I have a theory that it is harder for people who are in recovery from drugs or alcohol to quit sugar, but it can be done. Try to reduce your intake by half for a few weeks, then by half again for a week, then in half again until you reach at least the USDA recommended allowance (or less).

Cutting Down

When I decide to eat sweets, I go all out to satisfy my craving by going to a local bakery, gourmet or specialty chocolate shop. This way instead of buying a whole pie or cake, I can buy one slice, or just two or three chocolate raspberry truffles instead of a whole box of cheap chocolate from the drug store. The result is that I lower the potential sugar and caloric intake and the superior quality chocolate or baked delicacy more substantially satisfies my craving than low quality grocery store or quickie-mart junk food. So basically, I don't have to eat sweets as much or as often.

Progress Not Perfection

As you embark on a new way of eating, be kind to yourself if you slip into an old habit. Just acknowledge the awareness that you slipped and explore why. Don't beat yourself up. Instead ask yourself questions like: Was it because I had no food in the house so I went to a fast food joint? How can I stock my refrigerator to avoid fast food? Was I feeling emotionally vulnerable when I ate that entire box of cookies? What else can I do to feel better in the future?

Finally, I'd like to direct you my first article in the Pulse, Our Food Relationships, which offers many other important recommendations for dietary change.

Good luck, be well and remember that moderation and balance are the keys to successful, healthful dieting.
Juliette Aiyana, L.Ac.
Aiyana Center for Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs, NYC

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