This 2019, my health’s been just that very few small hiccups: two or three indigestion-induced episodes because I’m just too greedy and over-ate; a week-long fever (new antibodies developed in my system, yay!); 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!
Travel is always a good time to ‘test’ your health condition. Two winter trips to Bhutan and Hokkaido this month showed me that my body constitution is really doing pretty well now, yay! I didn’t get the flu or cough the way I always use to get whenever I go somewhere cold. This is incredible, because I get to witness how TCM herbal medicine and TCM therapy have helped to nurture my health effectively.
Habits my TCM doctor advised me to cut down
To give you context, let me just summarize my travels in 2019 and supposedly challenges on those trips. I did not take any western-based supplements (ginger pills, Vitamin C tablets, etc) on any trip.
• 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. I didn’t fall sick.
• 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; very 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 🤪
• December – central & western Bhutan. Short trip but extended hours on the road. I was nearly coming down with flu two days before travelling, but recovered before flying. Didn’t fall sick despite Bhutan being very cold that period (-1ºC) and my HeatTech wasn’t providing enough 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 not 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 things I cut down heavily (not quit) in 2019!
1. Eating too much.
The digestive system is considered the most important system of all within the human body.
Other than muscles, the digestive system in your body also directly influences the immune system and metabolism rate; as well as the repairing and restoration of your organs’ health.
The Chinese have one saying about how much one should eat: 吃饭七分饱. Eat until you’re 70% full.
Eating too full means your system needs to expend a lot of energy to digest the food – simple logic. If, you also 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 completely digested, 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 STUFFED more than being starved.
How do you know when you’re 70% full?
My TCM teacher answered, eat until you no longer feel hunger. Among the 3 meals, lunch is the ONLY meal that you can eat slightly more, 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 a wiser perspective, just because you didn’t wish to waste the food, you waste your health and thus waste life if you damage 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 take, store, cook, then 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 for your system.
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 is 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. For me, even my skin looks better. 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 meditation retreat 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 foods of convenience:
Fast food, processed food, junk 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 good 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. The majority of veggies are already defined as ‘cooling’, so to eat them raw is way too ‘cold’, and also harder to digest.
How to eat vegetables the right way: Cook them over fire/heat. Add ginger or garlic in your veggie dishes to remove / reduce the cooling element.
The world is advocating plenty of fruits, but for me. I don’t really eat 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? It’ll harm your Yang energy (阳气, loosely translated as your thermal energy) and damage your body constitution. Yang energy 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. And what happens when you get constipation? Toxins accumulate.
Thankfully, I’ve also never enjoyed sashimi or salad, nor loved fruits so much to make me say 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
5. Bubble Tea, Ice-cream, Iced drinks
Milk is a highly controversial topic in the nutrition world. Milk, documented long ago in TCM texts, are considered really cold (大寒, 阴寒), and only used in ‘overly-hot’ medical emergencies, not to be taken on a frequent basis.
Well, I like to think, milk is meant for baby cows, not for baby humans. The only milk I take now is in my coffee, or in my toast – as a supplementary taste, not as its whole such as a glass of fresh milk.
I wrote more about milk in this post!
Bubble Milk Tea
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 whenever iced drinks enter our system. Because everything starts to contract and will not be able to flow by then.
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.
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. My mother used to rebuke my father for giving us iced drinks because she felt it’s very damaging to us. I’m glad she stood her ground, so I only get to drink iced Coke once in a blue moon when I was a kid.
To drink iced drinks, often, and from young, will only expedite the speed of young people getting ‘old people’s pain’. And we notice how every kid at the coffee-shop and restaurant nowadays gets a can of iced drink each, or they’ll just simply buy it themselves after school.
6. Cold aircon. Long hours in cold aircon. Direct wind blasts from electric fans and coolers.
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, in order to produce heat (thermal energy), to keep you sufficiently warm, and keep your core temperature at a safe level. Things like aircon that’s very colddd, or 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 on your body – you can channel it towards the walls to cool down the room instead.
Of course, you can’t be living in Singapore (or Abu Dhabi or Dubai) and avoid aircon because aircon is everywhere. However, in recent years, the aircon in our malls and public transport, 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. If I don’t cover myself with a cardigan or scarf, I might just freeze to death.
| Check out which areas you need to cover up, should you work/study in cold air-conditioned places! |
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.
| Also read: Use these TCM Tips to Not Fall Sick in Winter |
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 after each wash.
I experimented with taking an indoor onsen at midnight during winter, on my last night in Hokkaido in December. 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 – 26 degrees. ♨️♨️♨️
8. Sleeping Late, or Not Sleeping
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 every morning. Thus began a cycle of panicking because I felt I should have produced more work, followed by 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 significantly. Most nights now, I sleep at 12+am or by midnight, which is still not early enough!
9. Too Much Exercise, and Working Out at the Wrong Time
Over-working out would deplete your qi too much.
Also, to work out from the evening onwards is deemed harmful in TCM context. There’s a saying: 日出而作，日落而息. Which means you should work when it’s daytime, and rest after sunset.
Protecting your qi is more important than training mental strength. All is good. All you need to stay mobile, is to get your joints moving often.
Ever since my TCM physician diagnosed that my heart does not have much power, which was the reason why any form of running always used to make me feel like dying (and also why I had breathing difficulties on my first trip to Bhutan), 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. Now, I go for one or two yoga classes a week, and practise taiji about two hours in a week.
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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!