Question: My mom always said my sweet-tooth was to blame for my weight problem (I can't seem to lose weight!), but my best friend says I should listen to my body and eat whatever I want because it knows what I need. I'm not sure what to do! Does Oriental Medicine have any wisdom about diet that could help me? - Candice M
A common dietary misconception is that if you crave a food or drink, then it must contain a vitamin, mineral or other substance that your body is lacking. The underlying principle is rather New Age myth that our bodies possesses an innate wisdom,and if we can get in touch with and listen to our bodies, they will guide us to health, freedom, and happiness. I'm here to tell you there may be some truth to that, but it's not that simple!
Idea #1: Your body knows what it needs and that's why you're craving it. The human body does sometimes tell us what we need to eat or drink, especially when it is relatively healthy. We get thirsty for water when dehydrated, crave protein when our activity level increases, or carbohydrates when we are more mentally active. In an extreme situation, pica (eating non-nutritive substances like dirt or paper) may be a desperate attempt to fill a mineral deficiency.
Idea #2: When your body is out of whack (yes, that's technical way to describe it), you may crave thing that makes it worse. Maybe you're craving that ice cream because your body needs calcium, or maybe it fits with your other cravings for candy and soda into a pattern of sugar addiction. Oops, I said addiction didn't I? Sorry, it won't happen again.
But here I must go into Chinese Medicine for a minute to explain basic point of my article, which is that sometimes your body knows what it needs, and other times it is stuck in a vicious cycle wherein it craves exactly what is worst for it.
Chinese Medicine and Food Cravings Chinese dietary therapy is as complex as chinese herbal medicine, which is extremely complex (go ask some Chinese Medicine students and they'll tell you all about it). Instead of going into that level of detail, we can talk more broadly from a Five Element perspective and still get some good insights.
Five Phase Relationships Chinese medicine talks about a system of 5 phase/element relationships. Each phase has an associated season, emotion, taste, organ, etc.
The sweet taste is associated with Eearth phase. Let's talk about Earth type person and how their food cravings work.
The Earth person tends to be a bit overweight, worries, is easily overwhelmed, and craves sweets. The taste associated with Earth type is sweetness. In CM, this works two ways: small amounts of sweets can strengthen Earth element, but overdoses can injure it. Both physical and mental digestion are affected. When earth element is weakened, appetite decreases, digestion is hindered (there may be tiredness or bloating after eating), sweets are craved in great degree and amount, stool becomes loose, there is a tendency toward worry (mental and emotional indigestion), and fatigue sets in.