Food is a very powerful healing force. Food and cleansing were two of the first areas I began to explore as I healed my chronic pain and recurring depression. And now they are central pillars in the work I do with others seeking greater health. Food affects our lives, our moods, and our physical state. Because everything is connected, how we prepare food, how we relate to food, and who we eat it with, are all factors in healing with food therapy. Our navigation of this relationship with food helps to determine the kind of life we are living and how we are relating to our environment. Our food needs and preferences change dependent on our age, lifestyle, our life cycles, and our health. Within the practice of holistic nutrition we recognize that each person is unique and that we must pay attention to the whole person for deep healing. Ultimately, a holistic self healing lifestyle recognizes that we are responsible for our self care. Our stress levels, exercise, relationships, and our diet all contribute to a well rounded approach to healing.
When learning about nutrition it is important to remember that there are many contradictions within the field and that ultimately it is a deeply personal process of experimentation. True healing is a gradual process and there are no quick fixes. Food has therapeutic value but its affects are often less drastic and less specific then pharmaceuticals or medicinal herbs. Ultimately we need high quality food and a knowledge of which foods are good for particular imbalances. When I work with clients I use a variety of foundational concepts to create a holistic diet plan. The following is a general description of some of those systems
Attention to Traditional Diets
It was only within the 20th century that industrial farming practices dramatically increased food production and the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides to increase crop yields became common place. The development of new technologies enhanced shelf life leading to a greater amount of processing of food away from their natural states.
Weston A. Price was one of the first researchers to notice a connection between the standard American diet that is heavily processed and western health problems. Traditional societies had nearly no heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes or hypertension. The conventional western diet has a high consumption of animal foods, junk foods (sugar, refined salt, chemicals) and mechanized food (microwaves, frozen, hydrogenated). In contrast, traditional diets that sustained cultures for thousands of years emphasized whole grains, beans, locally grown vegetables, fruits, small quantities of fish and wild animal meat, and natural condiments, herbs and spices.
In the west we have access to high quality food and modern nutritional knowledge which gives us the incredible opportunity to combine our understanding of traditional diets with a scientific understanding of the body. Western nutrition primarily divides foods into nutrients. It provides a valuable contribution to our understanding of food as medicine.
Living in a land of plenty has led to many nutrient deficiencies (mostly minerals) due to food processing and production. And in turn, many of these deficiencies have led to degenerative disease. By identifying certain deficiencies or excesses and using food nutrients therapeutically one can return balance to the system. However, nutrients are not enough on their own. Knowledge of how food affects the body/mind on an energetic level and the ability to individually self reflect on how our unique body responds is equally important.
Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine
Ayurveda (Traditional Indian medicine) and Shi Liao (Chinese food therapy) are systems that were created using a plant based, whole, fresh, seasonal and regional diet. Each system has complex diagnostic methods of determining constitutional types as well as pathological states.
Integration of an eastern understanding doesn't mean we only eat Asian food. Instead, it teaches us to recognize the energetic effects of our diet and in this way we are able to view foods holistically. Energetics such as thermal qualities, actions on meridians, and activating or stagnating qualities, inform our deeper understanding of each food. A universal diet doesn't exist and through an understanding of the energetics of food we are able to find a much more nuanced approach to healing through food therapy.
Water, Cleansing and Fasting
The importance of drinking enough clean water cannot be understated. Our bodies are made of water! It also provides detoxification, lubrication and helps with assimilation. Fasting and cleansing have been used historically as a healing remedy throughout almost every major culture and spiritual tradition. Today, with the high exposure to toxins we encounter on a daily basis, it is essential that cleansing become a regular habit. These techniques should be used for those who are healthy and those who are unwell.
There are many different types of cleanses and fasts depending on your health needs. Some people find cleansing with the seasons helpful, others use cleansing to clear out old emotional patterns or to reset the diet. The addition of medicinal herbs can also be a powerful contribution to your cleanse or fast. I offer group cleansing which many find very therapeutic. Again - these choices are personal and they are dependent on you health goals.
Food as a Healing Art
When we focus on eating whole unrefined foods, eating in harmony with nature, and with our unique constitution and circumstance, we discover that food selection, preparation, and eating is a healing art. This art is a paradox; beautifully complex yet profoundly simple. And when approached with curiosity and an open mind it promises transformation.