Zzziing! As my acupuncturist friend’s hand flew up and she jumped back, we both got a reminder that human bodies are not just matter—we’re energetic beings. I felt the electric shock in my hip, and she felt it from her hand through her body and into the ground.
She’d struck a nerve, literally, and we both felt the electrical impulse stored there. Acupuncture is fascinating to me, never more so than when it points out where energy may be collecting or stuck in our bodies.
Louise Hay based a lot of her work on the idea that our body’s symptoms are messages to us and that the body part that is in pain gives us a clue as to what emotion is not being addressed. She used affirmations to shift the emotions and heal the body.
Somatic therapists use a principle similar to this to help clients move trauma-induced stress out of our bodies through various physical therapies.
Our bodies may feel “real”—solid, tangible, even unchanging to some degree; our emotions can feel very intangible—nebulous and constantly changing.
Emotions are, in a sense, our energy. And when they are shoved down, not allowed to be felt, they can collect in our bodies and wreak havoc there, just as much as our poor food choices do.
In Integrative Nutrition®, detoxing is taken a step further than your run-of-the-mill-January-1-time-to-clean-up-the-diet cleanse: we don’t just remove “the bad stuff”—while we’re doing that we find ways to add in “the good stuff.” Otherwise, we find ourselves back on the merry-go-round of “new year, new you” every January.
That’s not so difficult as it may sound. The principles of clean eating are as follows, no matter what eating style you choose to adhere to, from carnivore to plant-based:
Will an eating style based on these simple principles really make a different in our physical health? Well, try it!
You may discover that not only do you feel better physically, your mental and emotional health may improve.
If you’ve followed me for awhile, you will have noticed that I didn’t list all four principles of clean eating—that’s because the fourth one is really not just about food: it’s about food energetics.
The food we put in our mouths literally gives us energy in the form of calories. It also brings with it a number of other energies that can improve or weaken our bodies (and minds and spirits).
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), most food carries with it a certain energy (yin or yang) and has a particular influence on the body (although some are considered neutral):
- A food can be hot or cold, dry or damp, contracted or expansive, yin or yang.
- Its influence can be heating or cooling, drying or making damp, contracting or expanding.
TCM practitioners treat food as medicine: they find an imbalance in the body and restore balance to it by introducing foods with the desired effect: inflammation calls for cooling foods; excessive dryness calls for damp-inducing foods, etc.
As a side note, it’s interesting that many foods used in this practice resemble the organs they support:
- Dark leafy greens, with their webs of veins, grow above the ground with an expansive yang energy, reaching toward the sky. They are associated with the upper half of the body and support the circulatory system. For those who suffer from mild depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder, eating more dark leafy greens can help!
- Root veggies, resembling organs in the lower half of the body, grow under the ground with a contracting, yin energy, collecting nutrients all summer and contributing a grounding, centering energy when eaten. Suffer from a frenetic, ADHD-type energy? Introducing more root veggies can help!
- Walnuts, their halves shaped like our brains, support our brains with plentiful beneficial fats.
- Kidney beans support—well, you get the idea!
If you live in a location with at least two seasons, you’ve likely noticed that your tastes naturally incline not only to seasonal foods but to season cooking methods:
- In the cold months, we gravitate toward soups and stews and other braised dishes: they simmer for a long time on low heat.
- In the warm months, we gravitate toward more raw foods and those cooked quickly on high heat: steamed, boiled, sautéed, grilled, broiled.
I can’t help but think that in our Northern hemisphere, so many detoxes fail because they don’t take seasonality into consideration: they call for summer foods prepared in summer ways in the middle of winter! The last thing I crave in January is cold, raw salads and icy green smoothies, and forcing my body to adhere to that eating style definitely feels like an uphill battle against deprivation.
energy from the outside world
So far, we know that foods have innate energies and that we can enhance these properties through our choice of cooking method. And there’s one more type of energy that comes with our food: the energy put into it by those who handle it.
Have you ever noticed that Grandma’s home-cooked meals always feel more nourishing (and taste better!) than the fast food drive-through’s? That’s because Grandma cooks with an added ingredient called Vitamin L, love.
And if Grandma’s love is noticeable in the food she serves, doesn’t it stand to reason that everyone who touches your food on its way to your plate also deposits a bit of energy into it?
When you consider that most Americans eat foods from conventional grocery stores or restaurants, you have a long, long food chain to consider: grower, picker, packer, shipper, retailer, buyer, cook—at a bare minimum.
What if the picker of your produce lives in horrible conditions, doesn’t make enough to feed her own family, can’t afford health care, etc.? What sort of energy is she putting into the food that she picks for some faceless consumer at least four steps removed from her rung of the food ladder?
That’s not quite so simple a fix as choosing seasonal foods and cooking methods, and I won’t get into it here. If you’re interested in ethical food, check out Oran Hesterman’s Fair Food, Tracie McMillan’s The American Way of Eating, and Saru Jayaraman’s Behind the Kitchen Door.
So yes, the food we put in our mouths brings a lot more energy with it than just the calories it carries. And we can improve that energy by buying, cooking, and eating ethically and with mindfulness and gratitude.
What’s the best way to eat?
But what about detoxing our emotions and energy?
I think about acupuncture, chiropractic, bio-geometric integration, and somatic therapies as a way of cleansing the nervous system so it can function properly—much the way many of us use detoxes or cleanses to get the digestive system working better.
And if that’s true, then we can find ways to add in “the good stuff” energetically speaking while we detox the nervous system.
For many of us, especially women, the past five years has felt toxic—none more so than 2020, a Rat Year unlike any most of us have experienced.
I have watched friends—even some of the most positive ones—fall into patterns of doomscrolling, cancel culture, and negativity, and it felt like a lot of their despair was due to the energy they were taking in from outside, not through their mouths this time but through their eyes and ears.
It’s no wonder that social media breaks and news fasts have become a thing—and I heartily support them. It is entirely possible to live in the world and be aware of major news stories without diving into hours of web surfing, only to emerge disheartened and angry.
Taking “the bad stuff” out is certainly a good way to cleanse our nervous system just like it is with our digestive tract. The trick is to fill the void with “the good stuff” so it doesn’t have time to creep back in.
Stumped as to how to find the good stuff? Think back to what you loved as a child—was it reading? writing? dancing? puzzles? Or try something you dreamed of doing and never tried.
If your excuse is that you don’t have time, check yourself: try reading a good book for the time you’d normally spend scrolling through the news or social media. If you are in any way connected to the outside world, you will still know about the important stories of the day.
make the connection
If you’re intrigued by the idea of detoxing through an Integrative Nutrition® lens, join me February 1–5 for Goodbye, Burnout!—a five day challenge that is all about starting on the path of reversing burnout (or preventing it from starting in the first place) by adding in the good stuff while taking out the bad.