This 2019, my health’s been just that a few hiccups: two or three indigestion-induced episodes because I’m just too greedy and over-ate; a week-long fever; occasional cough; 1 almost-flu before my winter trip to Bhutan (I recovered with just one dosage of TCM herbs). But mostly, all still good and well! You can see your health condition when you travel. Two winter trips in December showed me that my body constitution is really doing pretty well now. I didn’t get the flu or cough the way I always did whenever I go somewhere cold. This is incredible, because I can see how TCM herbal medicine and TCM therapy have helped to nurture my health so effectively.
Habits my TCM doctor told me to cut down
To give you context, let me just summarize my travels in 2019 and supposedly challenges on those trips:
• March – Chiang Mai, Thailand. Solo trip. Chiang Mai was deemed the most polluted city in the world during the week I was there. The haze was so bad that even my eyes would sting. Nothing untoward happened to me.
• May – 10-day road trip through eastern Bhutan, to central then western. The eastern circuit is considerably remote, with very few tourists ever visiting. This means road conditions aren’t fantastic, long hours on winding mountain roads, high altitude in the highlands. I barely suffered motion sickness nor mountain sickness.
• September – one week in Shanghai, China. The only challenge was indigestion because our hosts were all so kind and generous and brought us to eat good food nearly every dinner O.O.
• December – central & western Bhutan. Short trip but extended hours on the road. I was coming down with flu two days before Bhutan, but recovered before flying. Didn’t fall sick despite Bhutan being very cold that period (-1ºC) and my HeatTech weren’t providing sufficient warmth.
• December – Niseko & Sapporo, Hokkaido. Learning and skiing while it snows; temperatures going to -6ºC at night. I felt perfectly fine the whole trip.
As per what I learned from my TCM teacher, the essence of TCM is pure, simple and wise. Four characters can sum up the core of TCM philosophy: 道法自然。
There is a very much deeper meaning behind those four characters, which goes as far as involving self-combustion (but it’s not about setting yourself on fire). The layman’s translated meaning, applied to modern times, is to live as per nature. To live healthily and well, a person’s lifestyle and actions should follow nature’s four seasons, sunrises and sunsets.
The key to better health using TCM philosophy, is never about what to add into your life (eg. tonics), but rather, cutting down habits that kill a person’s health slowly and surely.
TCM believes these lifestyle habits will do significant damage to health.
So these became the 9 things I cut down heavily (not quit) in 2019!
The digestive system is considered the most important system in the human body. Other than muscles, the digestive system in your body also directly influences our immune system, metabolism rate; repairs and restores our organs’ health.
The Chinese have one saying about how much one should eat: 吃饭七分饱. Which translates to: Eat until you’re 70% full.
Eating too full means your system needs to expend a lot of energy to digest the food. If you eat very fast and didn’t chew enough, your digestive system will need to work extra hard to do all the digestion for you. If the food can’t be digested completely, it accumulates in your system and turns into a different form of toxin – which haunts you in the form of discomfort, aches, pain, abnormal growths, illnesses.
The digestive system fears being overstuffed, more than being over-starved.
How do you know when you’re 70% full?
My TCM teacher answered, eat until you no longer feel hunger. Lunch is the ONLY meal that you can eat more among the three meals, or food that’s harder to digest. Ultimately, the idea is to completely skip dinner (read Point 2 below).
You might think it’s a sin if you don’t finish the food on your plate, given that there are so many people dying of hunger in this world. When my mother used to tell me to finish my food, I’ll think, it’s not like my finishing of the food will directly help the people starving elsewhere in the world right now. To put it in TCM context, just because you didn’t wish to waste the food, you waste your health and thus waste life if you hurt your digestive system from over-eating. Nowadays, I’m the one telling my mother to NOT finish her food if she already feels full.
If all of us in modern cities need not throw away so much food, there’ll be more than enough food for the rest of the world.
Eating over-‘nutritious’ food is not suggested either.
Nutrition – in TCM context – is not about simply supplementing what your body’s short of. It’s not like: if you lack glucosamine, all you need to do is to take glucosamine tablets and your joint issues will be gone. Or, if you lack qi, just consume more Chinese tonics to replenish the qi – No. It doesn’t work that way. Your body is a lot more complex than that. If your digestive system is not working well and yet you eat all sorts of over-‘nutritious’ things, on the contrary, you’ll hurt your health further, because what you eat will become a burden instead.
The human body is intelligent. TCM believes, a healthy system can convert required nutrients that the body needs, from the most simple of food intake (even if it’s white rice porridge).
2. Eating dinner and eating it late, because it’s considered slow suicide.
At night, your body should be winding down just like how the sun sets, to prepare for a new day ahead. By eating dinner, you’ll make your digestive system work overtime when it should be resting. If you eat heavy food, that’s double damage.
The acceptable time to eat dinner (if you really need to eat) is before 5pm. After 5pm, it’s considered very damaging. If you didn’t eat a heavy dinner the night before, you might just wake up feeling less tired. Try it!
In modern society, quitting dinner indeed requires a lot of self-discipline against temptations, plus perseverance to withstand social pressure. I totally understand this. Dinner engagements are a huge part of our lifestyles now, and it’s tiring to answer and sound sane when people ask why aren’t you eating the “normal amount of dinner”. But I’ll keep trying. For as many nights as possible on my trip to Bhutan this month, I skipped or ate a small portion of dinner.
How to quit dinner safely
We don’t encourage people to skip dinner right away if you’ve been taking dinner and at a late hour for all your life. And especially if you have gastric issues. Instead, you can try to reduce the intake gradually, to get your system slowly accustomed.
Another effective, safe method to reset your dinner habits is to join a TCM fasting retreat.
I shudder whenever I recall my previous lifestyle in the design industry – working overtime often, eating heavy food like pizzas and pasta past 8pm, and heading back to the office to continue to work till late hours, then supper again after midnight. Come 2020, I hope to keep working on cutting down my dinner intake for as many nights as I can.
3. Indulging in food of convenience: Fast food, junk food, processed food, instant coffee.
Anything that’s made to be too convenient, will always come with a hefty price-tag. To enjoy that convenience, you could be trading in your health.
For a period of time, I ate fast food about once a week. It’s an easy decision – the restaurant has nice ambience, free WIFI, and for a reasonable price – a complete meal of fries, main and drink. Ever since I switched to TCM wellness, my body is slowly moving away from addictions like junk food. Somehow, that McSpicy, or potato chips, just do not taste as tantalizing as before. I prefer real, cooked food now. As for coffee, I no longer drink 3-in-1 instant coffee, switching to ground coffee now.
4. Uncooked food including salad, sashimi, and even fruits.
Eating clean is a big deal now. A lot involves eating raw, and eating veggies and fruits. A colorful bowl looks so pretty, but is it really good for everyone? My TCM teacher advised the opposite to me. In TCM context, salad is too ‘cold’ for our system. Vegetables and fruits should be cooked before eating. A lot of veggies are too cooling actually, unless they had been cooked with ginger or garlic to remove / reduce the cooling element. Raw food is also harder to digest as compared.
Why I don’t eat much fruits now
According to my TCM teacher, most fruits belong to the ‘cold’ region (寒/凉), except for mango, durian, longan, lychee, rambutan, jackfruit. In case you wonder, a fruit need not necessarily be chilled in order to be cold. An orange or pineapple at room temperature is still ‘cold’.
What happens when we eat the ‘cold fruits’ then? In ancient TCM philosophy, eating cooling fruits will harm your Yang qi (loosely translated as thermal energy) and damage your body constitution. Yang qi is the life force that makes everything work in your body, the life force that keeps you healthy and strong. When Yang qi gets cut down, the abilities of your vital organs will get reduced, including the moving of your intestines.
Thankfully, I’ve also never enjoyed sashimi or salad, nor loved fruits so much that I’ll die if I don’t eat fruits.
A common question is whether you’ll get constipation if you skip fruits. I can’t say the same for everyone as our body constitutions are all different from all kinds of lifestyles led. However, you can try to recall whether your grandparents ever ate a lot of fruits when they were younger. If they didn’t eat, did they have constipation during those times? How about people too poor to afford fruits every day? #fruitforthought
I wrote more about milk in this post!
5. Bubble Tea, Ice-cream, Iced drinks
Those are too cooling, too cold, or too hard to digest (tapioca pearl bubbles). Science teaches you that things contract when they’re cold, so we don’t want bloodstreams and the meridien channels to go through that blast of cold air when iced drinks enter our system. Because everything starts to contract and will not be able to flow by then.
Did you know, plenty of body-aches that commonly used to only hit the older generation, are brought about by their inner systems being too cold? The main reason is that their Yang energy has dropped. Many young adults are now experiencing chronic body pain. To drink iced drinks, often, and from young, will only expedite the speed of young people getting ‘old people’s pain’.
Pearl bubble milk tea is HUGEEE in Singapore lately, with many joints sprouting none-stop. Many people are posting their plastic cup of bubble milk tea on social media all the time. The temptation is real. If I didn’t count wrong, I drank at most 5 cups of pearl bubble milk tea in 2019, with most of them being hot drinks or without ice. And probably 2 times of ice-cream. My body is finally rejecting cold stuff after all the TCM adjustment to health. My throat does not enjoy the cold sensation of the ice-cream or chilled beverage. The next is the discomfort in the stomach. Now, most of the time, the only ice I take is in my… hard liquor, to dilute it.
6. Spending a lot of time in cold, air-conditioned places. Or direct blasts from electric fans.
Cold air and artificial wind does more harm to your body than you think.
Human beings are meant to stay warm. Only dead bodies have no more warmth. Your body also has a self-protection system. Anything that threatens the superficial, exterior layer and level of warmth (your skin), is a sign to your vital organs to keep burning from within, in order to produce heat (thermal energy) and keep your core temperature at a safe level. Things like aircon that’s very colddd, and wind from fans and coolers, remove the warmth from your skin. As time goes by, your inner battery runs out of fuel.
As such, aircon should not be too cold (26ºC at most). The fan’s wind should not be directly hitting your body – you can channel it to the walls to cool down the room instead.
However, you can’t live in Singapore (or Abu Dhabi or Dubai) and avoid aircon. In recent years though, the aircon in our shopping malls, buses or trains, are getting really cold. On some new bus designs, the aircon vents are plenty all above your head, and cannot be diverted – a real frustration. I’ll freeze to death if I don’t cover myself with a cardigan and scarf.
If the aircon is like 23˚C and you’re still dripping sweat or feeling very warm, erm, you should seek medical help, to adjust your health.
7. Showering at night. Long showers. Daily Washing of Hair.
As the sun sets, the Yang energy on earth retreats, while the Yin energy takes over. To shower past sunset, when the Yin energy is strong, would thus invite trouble to your health. Do yourself a favour: take relatively-warm showers in the daytime where possible, don’t prolong your bathing time unnecessarily (you can still sing outside of that shower), and blowdry your hair super-dry after each wash.
I experimented with taking an indoor onsen at midnight in winter in Hokkaido. It might be one of the most stupid things I’ve ever done. The next morning, I woke up feeling cold, even though the hotel room’s temperature is the same as per previous mornings.
8. Sleeping Late
My TCM teacher advised to sleep early, by 10pm if you don’t wish to destroy your health (the ideal time to sleep is 8.30pm, or two hours after sunset). This has to do with different meridien channels coming into activity at different time-slots, and they can’t do work if you’re still not in deep sleep.
As per the first half of 2018 and before, my usual sleeping time was 3+am, which resulted in waking up late daily. Thus began a cycle of panicking because I should have completed more work, and then a form of self-punishing because I don’t deserve to sleep early. This habit of sleeping late was taxing my mental, emotional and physical health. By 2019, my sleeping habits improved. Most nights, I sleep at 12+am, which is still not early enough!
9. Working Out [Too Much], or at the Wrong Time
Over-working out would deplete your qi too much.
Running 5km at one shot is considered over-working out. A hot yoga class, even once a week, is considered too much.
Exercising from evening onwards, is deemed harmful in TCM context.
Ever since I heard that my heart does not have much power, which is a reason why any form of running always used to make me feel like dying, I refuse to do any hardcore exercise now. Bye any gym memberships, bye too to any Zumba packages. I won’t even take power yoga classes. Protecting your qi is more important than training mental strength. Now, I go for one or two yoga classes a week, and taiji about two hours in a week. All is good. All you need to stay mobile, is to get your joints moving often.
View this post on Instagram
We’re stepping into a new decade in a few hours’ time. I really wanted to write this post to share more TCM information. Hope it will benefit you and your loved ones!