This 2019, my health’s been just that very few small hiccups: two or three indigestion-induced episodes because I got 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! I didn’t get the flu or that wheezing, terrible cough-turns-bronchitis the way I always use to get whenever I headed somewhere cold. This is incredible, because I got to witness for myself how TCM herbal medicine and TCM therapy managed to nurture my health so effectively.
Lifestyle habits my TCM teacher advised 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 in Singapore 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 living well with TCM is pure, simple, and wise (“大道至简”)。
Simply put: to live well means to live simply, as per nature. Ancient TCM believes that a human body is akin to a mini universe, while we live within this big universe.
To live healthily and well, a person’s lifestyle and actions should follow nature’s four seasons, sunrises and sunsets.
TCM believes these lifestyle habits will do significant damage to a person’s health.
So these became the things I cut down heavily from 2019 onwards!
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 breaking down of the food 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 exactly when you’re 70% full?
My TCM teacher answered: Eat until you no longer feel hungry. 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 feel 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. Well, 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.
Taking supplements or eating over-‘nutritious’ food are also not encouraged.
Nutrition – in TCM context – is not about simply supplementing what your body’s short of. It’s not: if you lack glucosamine, all you need to do is to take glucosamine tablets and your joint issues will be gone. Or if that health checkup says you lack calcium, drink more milk. Or, if you lack qi, just consume more Chinese tonics to replenish the qi – No. It doesn’t work that way. The human 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 additional 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 white rice porridge).
2. Eating Dinner &/or Eating Late.
Taking a late dinner or supper is no different from committing 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!
Skipping dinner is the only form of daily intermittent fasting I would practise, a few days a week.
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 very small portion of dinner.
| Read about this special meditation retreat I did in Bhutan! |
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-based fasting retreat.
I’ve participated in this 5-day TCM-based fasting & wellness retreat for three times by now. What did we do when we’re not eating? Other than resting, listening to educational talks, we learned and practised quite a bit of qigong too, which will help your body cope safely with the sudden drop in food intake.
Each time after finishing the retreat, I coulc see and feel the health transformations (and especially my improved skin) afterwards. Bye bye enlarged pores and facial blemishes!). Also, I used to get gastric pain if I skip a meal in the past, but now, my gastric problems are gone for good. Drop me a message either below or via Contact Form if you’ll like to find out more.
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.
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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 was 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. Eating raw/uncooked food, such as salad, sashimi, and even fruits.
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.
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 or similar spices to reduce the cooling element.
The world is advocating plenty of fruits, but for me, I don’t really eat fruits now.
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. Taking iced and cold stuff.
Iced Pearl Bubble Milk Tea, soft drinks, ice-cream, yogurt, just to name a few.
Bubble Milk Tea
The tapioca pearl bubbles are also very difficult to digest. Science teaches that things contract when they’re cold, so we don’t want bloodstreams and 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.
Milk is a highly controversial topic in the nutrition world, what with growth hormones and stuff.
Documented long ago in TCM medical texts, milk is considered really ‘cold’ (大寒, 阴寒), and only used in medical emergencies when a patient is overly ‘hot’. Milk is 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!
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Iced drinks, ice-cream
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 rather ‘occasionally’ 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. Over- cooling down your body with aircon.
Cold air and artificial wind (electric fans and coolers) 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. Taking Late or Long Showers, or Washing your hair daily.
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, is Slow Suicide.
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.
Sleeping late is also extremely taxing on the heart.
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 Gym / Too Much Exercise / Working Out at the Wrong Time
Over-working out will deplete your qi.
Running 5km at one shot is considered over-working out. A hot yoga class, even once a week, is considered 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 physical strength. 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 strength, 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 Zumba – I don’t need to consider you anymore. 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 a week.
Credits: All the TCM information shared here is solely learned from my TCM teacher, who prefers to remain unnamed. However, if you’ll like recommendations for a trusted TCM clinic in Singapore, send me a message!
More TCM & wellness articles on the blog!
• How to easily boost your immune system at home while on home quarantine
• How to use TCM to stay healthy on your winter trip!
• TCM practices completely changed my travel style
• Simple but effective yoga poses before a flight
• 12 self-care tips to nourish the mind