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Gimmick Diets: Strengths & Weaknesses



It’s not that gimmick diets don’t work. There couldn’t not be science behind them, just as there is in anything intentional in food or nature, anything we put into our bodies. The issue instead, why they get labeled as “gimmick,” is the allopathic, one-size-fits-all paradigm from which they are often recommended.

I’m confident any diet of complete abstinence, whether gluten and dairy free, veganism, paleo, keto, or intermittent fasting, can benefit certain people for certain amounts of time; but just as is the case with herbal or western medicine, the only way for them to be truly effective, intelligently prescribed, is by knowing not only their benefits, but their flaws.

For example, when we nourish blood with herbal medicine, we should beware of creating internal dampness and modify accordingly. When we drain dampness we should beware of drying healthy body fluids and modify accordingly. Western medicine does not have this luxury. They cannot modify pharmaceuticals beyond dosage, and even if they could, subjective systemic climate is not a part of their pathology diagnoses.

May people benefit from the vegan diet. By eliminating meat for certain periods of time one will surely clear damp heat from the stomach and intestines, as meat is a heavy substance that is more difficult to break down than most carbs or vegetables. On the other hand, over time the vegan diet will likely not provide enough “qi and blood,” as there is no greater source of these than animal protein. If veganism was an herbal prescription we might liken it to a bitter cold medicinal, such as coptis root (which is why coptis root is almost never given to vegans).

At the opposite pole is the ketogenic diet, where one is not permitted any carbs whatsoever, and instead eats a great deal of animal protein. Originally designed for epilepsy patients in the 1920s—now used more for weight loss in the 2020’s—it is supposedly great for reducing neurological inflammation, which is logical as this is especially spiked by simple sugars. By eliminating sugar, a great deal of dampness will be drained from the stomach and pancreas, however over time the excess animal protein will create systemic heat, which eventually creates inflammation, synonymous with more dampness. This might explain why many people on the keto diet supplement with magnesium to avoid constipation. Magnesium is a “cold mineral” that if taken over time will have such side effects on the stomach. My understanding is to do the ketogenic diet intelligently, one obviously cannot avoid animal protein, but should be most forward with fish, eggs, and nut butters to avoid creating excess heat.

More people these days are practicing intermittent fasting than ever before, and most are experiencing some superficial benefit, albeit with underlying side effects. The Chinese said the stomach qi is strongest between 7-9am. Western medicine says this is the time we are most sensitive to the insulin hormone, whose job it is to break down glucose. These mean the same thing, which is that science agrees with the maxim of other cultures and generations past: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. By skipping breakfast we might drain dampness from the body, but we do so at the expense of the healthy stomach fluids. People might lose weight or feel great in the short-term, but over time they experience other digestive issues and can’t figure out why, because they are “doing everything right.” A more intelligent way to do this would be to skip dinner, however this does not align with our lifestyles and cultural norms. Instead, it is most advisable when practical, to eat all of our food between 7-7, the latter of which being when insulin resistance dramatically spikes.

Finally, I cannot see any drawback of going gluten, sugar, and/or dairy free. It does wonders for autoimmune, thyroid, and neurological patients, otherwise to prevent such conditions. Gluten and dairy are not toxic the way that sugar is, but they are damp-causing foods with little to no redemptive qualities. Dairy would be far down the list of healthy sources of calcium or protein, and almost everyone with stomach, lung, or skin issues greatly benefits from 3-6 months of abstinence. Instead, I am always a proponent of Eastern nutrition, which recommends all cooked foods, mostly vegetables, with small but daily portions of carbs and animal protein.

I hope this was insightful or helpful, and as always all questions and comments are welcome!

The Importance of Bland, Sour, & Bitter Foods


There are three flavors that are resoundingly unrepresented in the typical, daily, western diet, whose void is arguably part of the cause of our leading all first world nations in major disease. Sour foods, bitter, and bland foods all induce important healing mechanisms in the body that can only be fully understood through Chinese herbal medicine.

Sour foods have an astringent effect, which makes it very curious why so many Americans drink lemon water or tea when they have a cold or virus, which we want to do anything but astringe. From our perspective foods like lemon, pickles, (apple cider) vinegar, and sauerkraut might be great for improving immune function to prevent contracting colds, but once we are sick, acrid foods such as cinnamon, ginger, and garlic are more advisable.

Sour foods help to conserve (by astringing) the body’s cellular energy and healthy fluids. If we are completely burnt out, or experiencing symptoms such as muscle cramps, or getting a second wind late at night that prevents a healthy bedtime, these might all be requests from our body for more astringing of resources. Personally, I enjoy lemon water, or sprinkling it on kale, broccoli, and/or asparagus. Tomatoes are great this time of year and sauerkraut is especially balancing with spicy foods. Since the spice will naturally bring fluids up and out, we can use the kraut to counteract this effect and keep nutrients inside. Of course, sauerkraut is generally taken raw, so it is important to eat in conjunction with cooked foods or hot tea to fully digest.

The bitter flavor must be hands down the most unpopular in America, and the reason I figure it to be healthy is because my 2-year-old hates it more than anything—while obviously preferring sweet to anything. In Chinese medicine the bitter flavor clears heat (or inflammation) from the body, which is especially important for the next two months of the year. Scutellariae root clears heat from the lungs, Coptis root from the microbiome, and phellodendron from the urogenital microbiome.

These make up the “three yellows,” and if I’ve ever put them in your herbal formula you’ve likely complained to me the following week. Instead, regular consumption of unsweetened green and/or dandelion tea, most leafy greens, and cabbage can help to mature your palette all while reducing the kind of systemic inflammation that tends to rise eventually into the chest or central nervous system later in life. If you must have sweets after dinner, do so with either hot dandelion or barley tea to counter their effect.

The bland flavor is the toughest for me, because like most people with “damp heat” internal body types, I love spices and flavors, and especially love cooking vegetables in a way that is delicious and not so boring. But while there is a time and place for culinary creativity and indulgence, plain steamed vegetables were a staple in the diets of most human beings for centuries prior, which happened to be centuries of much fewer diseases. Sure, people weren’t living as long, but chronic illness in 40-year-olds was much rarer than it is today.

Poria mushroom is one of our most commonly used bland herbs for draining dampness from the gastrointestinal and urogenital microbiomes. Its bland flavor helps to modulate urinary function and reduce pathogenic fluid retention, and by doing so it has the additionally desirable side effect of calming our minds and spirit. How does this work? By reducing the proverbial internal traffic jams of unwanted fluids, our healthy fluids can then more easily circulate up to and from the central nervous system without diversion or congestion. If spicy foods ramp us up, it should be pretty deductive that bland will calm us, and who couldn’t use more calm?

One idea to incorporate this all into a meal is steamed or boiled broccoli (dress with olive oil if you like), sauteed leafy greens with garlic, salt, and pepper, any tofu or animal protein prepared to taste, and a glass of lemon water, and/or sauerkraut on the side; followed by a hot cup of dandelion or barley tea, with honey if you must.

Counteract Summer Heat With Chinese Herbal Teas


In spite of thus far boasting minimal over-heated days that inspire associations of barbecues and the beach, Summer is upon us

At home we joined our community pool, which is supposedly very popular and only a short walk from our home, but are yet to throw the baby in, as the only days that temperature might have permitted have been of coinciding rainstorms. The humidity just recently arrived, which for me is a bit of an ironic breath of fresh air, as a New York (New Jersey) summer sans the dense filth of 90-degree oppression on train platforms would resonate as just another bittersweet symptom of global warming.

Chinese Medicine appropriately labels this as “damp heat,” a very serious pathogen that genetically applies to yours truly and is nothing to be snoozed at. When dampness, or pathogenic body fluids mix with inflammatory heat they form an often impenetrable pathogen the Chinese label as “phlegm,” and “the cause of 1000 diseases.”

“Phlegm” in our medicine refers to not only that of the lungs and sinuses, but also the plaques that create arteriosclerosis, polyps, Alzheimer’s Disease, fatty liver, and I suppose about 1000 more illnesses. If someone is genetically susceptible to heat, left untreated their own dampness will inevitably transform into “damp heat” and become that much more difficult to resolve. Think many cases of autoimmune disease, cancers, and diagnoses of similar gravities.

Typically, the American trademarks of summer are in direct opposition to Eastern Medicine’s advice for mitigating the side effects of the external damp heat. Red meat and barbecue are sources of damp heat, as is alcohol—especially beer—spicy foods, or shellfish. As one of a family of many gout sufferers I must pick my spot wisely to indulge in one of my favorite summertime meals, oysters and some snobby, local IPA. At the least I always attempt to resolve such indulgences’ side effects on their backends.

More cooling foods and drinks that should be ingested liberally include watermelon, cucumber, celery (or celery juice), lemon, radishes, and of course chamomile or mint teas. Other recommended food grade medicinal teas are ju hua (chrsyanthemum flower) and yi yi ren (job’s tears/pearl barley), both of which should be available at any Asian market.

While the former is great for clearing heat in the upper portion of the body—think possibly headaches, summer dizziness, styes, and any issues of redness around the eyes—the latter is directed more to the intestines and urogenital microbiome. This time of year people are more prone to hyperhidrosis below the belt, swelling of the limbs, UTI’s, hemorrhoids, or stickier stools. If you wish to live in accord with the season and do better than low-quality store-bought herbal teas, I recommend getting these ingredients for tea at home.

30 grams of job’s tears + 10 grams chrysanthemum + 8 cups of water.

Boil and simmer for 40 minutes, drain out the herbs, and drink the slightly bitter, earthy tea. If you cannot measure grams and/or want to make a full pitcher for the week it’s fine to eyeball the measurements, simply aiming for a 3:1 ratio of job’s tears to chrysanthemum. In Chinese Medicine the bitter flavor is indispensable at clearing heat from the body, and recommended that westerners acclimate our palettes to it.

Finally, each season brings its own recommendations around our circadian rhythms. Summer corresponds with the fire element, which corresponds with the heart organ. The hours assigned to the heart are 11am-1pm, which for the next few months makes this an optimum time for 15-30 minutes of rest and relaxation. I realize most people, myself included, are usually quite busy at this time, but whenever possible it is ideal for heart health to take a pause, to close our eyes, lie down for a short meditation, and/or book your acupuncture visits accordingly (this from one of my most respected teachers, Dr. Henry McCann).

Please don’t get me wrong. The experience summer barbeques with friends is, in my opinion, one of life’s finest treasures, and should never fall by the wayside. However, it is advisable to eat mindfully the remaining 90% of our time, and appropriately to always counterbalance our indulgences on the day after.

Caffeine: How, When, and What to Drink

If I had to choose my two personal, favorite vices they would easily be caffeine and alcohol, the latter of which I take mostly in great moderation of course, out of respect for how poisonous it can be to the body. My teacher, Suzanne, often stresses to us that it is important to give the body some time to recover after drinking, inadvertently refuting the notion that 1-2 glasses every day is unacceptable.

As for caffeine, I used to be a “one a day” guy, that is until my baby was born, having since graduated to two a day. I drink an organic half-caf from Purity Coffee shortly after waking, followed by some kind of tea shortly after breakfast.

Functional neurology recommends waiting at least 60 minutes after waking to have your first cup of caffeine, as up until that time the cortisol hormone is still rising and should not be over-stimulated, lest we are more likely to “crash” later on. Chinese Medicine goes a step further (doesn’t it always?) and recommends waiting at least until 7am, as the hours between 5-7am correspond to the “qi” of the large intestine, which is obviously vulnerable to coffee. I say take this information and do your best as it relates to your present lifestyle and struggles.

On days where I have red meat, pork, and/or alcohol the night before I drink green tea, as the green tea leaf has a more cooling effect on the microbiome, regardless of whether taken cold or hot (in fact cold green tea, from a Chinese Medical perspective is highly inadvisable, as few stomachs would benefit from pouring “cold cold” all over it). Other days, which make up the majority, I have black tea, preferably Pu-Erh for its naturally fermented pro-biotics and subsequent healthy warming effect on the gut. Other black teas are fine too, but as with anything consumable in America, it is highly recommended to find a good quality product.

Supermarket tea brands are comprised mostly of dust swept from tea manufacturing plant floors—not real tea leaves—thus will not yield much health benefits at all. It makes me sad and frustrated when I see so many people trying to do the right thing, buying green or black teas or vegetables at the supermarket, knowing they are not being rewarded for their efforts, frankly as a result of capitalism.

If you insist on consuming cold foods for breakfast, such as fruit and or yogurt, it is especially important to have it with black tea and minimize green tea and coffee, the latter of which also ultimately has a “cooling effect” on the stomach, evidenced in how it purges and softens stool.

As sleep is a huge priority for me, I stop drinking all caffeine by 11am. I know conventional medicine recommends 12pm, though I’ve never understood the science behind this beyond its relatively arbitrary marking as the start of “afternoon.” 11am, on the other hand, corresponds with the heart channel in Chinese Medicine’s circadian rhythm, which corresponds with our psycho-emotional health and central nervous system. This makes 11am-1pm an ideal time to reduce hyperactivity in the upper portion of our bodies through things like exercise, as opposed to pouring more stimulation into it with caffeine. Stopping caffeine by 11am also allots us the recommended 12 hours to flush it out of our systems by 11pm, which is the latest advisable bedtime, as per the same circadian rhythm and the body’s natural melatonin secretion.

If you are overly sensitive to caffeine, we generally see it as symptomatic of fluid deficiency in the upper portion of the body, namely the central nervous system, that generally requires herbal medicine and red meat to replenish. If you are overly insensitive to caffeine—people who can drink it right before bed and still get a good night’s sleep—we see it as an excess of pathogenic fluids in the upper portion of the body. This generally requires herbal medicine and avoidance of “damp-causing foods,” such as sugars, gluten, and dairy.

Can It Be All Stress?


“It’s just stress,” is a diagnostic platitude commonly heard by patients when relaying either to friends or their doctor about some odd or non-immediately fatal symptom that lacks any conventional, empirical treatment.

It would be an over-simplification to label this stock response as wholly or always dismissive—in my opinion it is more often a result of the listeners’ lack of knowledge of physiological nuances, disease spectrums, and of course the entire internal paradigm of Chinese Medicine.

The mind is en vogue in the past generation, so much so that people jump at the opportunity to sound mentally acute even while being mentally lazy in its default citation as a scapegoat for everything, the way fat was in the 20th century or sugar is now. It makes them feel aware of the more mysterious, all while maintaining an orthodox adherence to conventional medicine’s present understanding of things. I picture people picturing themselves as if sipping a small cup of whiskey wearing Coke bottle glasses and a bowtie in their reply: “It’s (probably just stress),” then putting their cup back down and nodding their head as if they’d just cured HIV.

While no one could dispute that stress is an important variable in the etiology of most illnesses, it is also just that: One important variable. So why when we have curious symptoms that conventional medicine has no explanation or treatment for do they never say: “It’s just diet?” “It’s just your sleep hygiene?” Or: “It’s just your exercise routine that needs refinement or reduction, or simply needs to exist?”

Why when one person experiences incredible stress does it show up as digestive issues, while for another it does as insomnia, and another as hives all over their skin? “People are different,” idiots might shrug and say, which isn’t untrue, but is an egregious oversimplification. People are different, which means if we each consumed diets and partook in exercises suitable to our own individual constitutions, we’d likely be able to ward off the ill effects of short or even medium-term life stressors.

If stress causes you low back or neck pain we know there is “dampness trapped on the exterior layer of the body.” If stress causes stomach issues we know there are already stomach issues, since most or many people can endure stress without such symptoms. If stress causes headaches or migraines then there was likely already some dysregulation of cerebrovascular flow in particular neurological pathways

In this way stress can be invaluably informative, by tipping our internal scale and showing us where we are weak, where in our bodies we are retaining pathogenic fluids, so we can properly treat, instead of dismissing it. Because odd, inexplicable symptoms are never nothing. They are not “all in our minds” or insignificant. Instead, from a Chinese Medical perspective, sadly they are potential coming attractions—foreshadows of diagnoses to come.

I apologize if this sounds dark or ominous. My intention is the opposite, to offer optimism and agency to those of us who have been repeatedly implied to that we must resolve all of our internal turmoil in order to be free of a particular problem. While I am all for a daily practice of meditation, prayer, community, and anything else that reduces stress, we should be able to also rely on medical providers to step in with something more to offer during periods where our practice of psycho-emotional work and discipline just is not enough.

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