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Dr. Richard Isaacson

Food as Medicine: A Holistic Physician’s Guide to Nutrition - Part IV

Cravings and taste preferences are useful clues to me about a patients relative state of balance.  And, finally, it is not just what we eat, but how we eat. In Part IV, I discuss cravings, taste preferences, spices, and seasonings, as well as that most important aspect for our nutrition:  mindful eating.

About taste, cravings, spices, and seasonings:

*  Sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and spicy are the five principal tastes we experience.  If you have strong cravings for one or more of a particular taste, this is a sign of an imbalance.  Again, over time, strong taste desires will lessen.

* Cravings for sweets and carbohydrates are very common signs of imbalance.  Sometimes the cause is physical:  digestive problems, metabolism problems, and fatigue can all be causes.  Sometimes the cause is on the emotional level:  often feelings of sadness or lack can cause us to crave these tastes and food types.

* Cravings for other tastes, such as spicy and salty, indicate other types of imbalances in body/mind/spirit.

* Try not to deprive yourself when you have strong cravings; this can be more harmful than avoiding them. 

* In my work with patients, I make suggestions to satisfy taste cravings that will ease the transition into more optimal state of balance, and specific suggestions regarding spices and seasonings for an individuals constitution.

How to eat:

*How we eat is just as important as what we eat.  The physiologic mechanism of digestion is affected and inhibited by our meal habits.  Maldigestion can lead to cravings and overeating because the bodys nutritional needs are not being met.

* Make time for each meal. 

* Always eat sitting down.

* Eat mindfully. 

* Before your first bite take time to pause and breathe gently and deeply.

* Eat and only eat, do not read, watch TV, do work, talk on the phone.  Digestion and absorption will be inhibited if you are doing anything in addition to eating.

*  Eat when you are in a relaxed mood.  Avoid unpleasant thoughts and stressful conversations at meal time.  These will inhibit the digestion and absorption processes.

* Try to eat slowly, and to eat each bite until it is a mushy liquid consistency.  Digestion starts in the mouth, and by giving our salivary enzymes time to do their job, we can optimize our digestion.  Otherwise, food will not be digested or absorbed, and we can be malnourished, may have cravings, and overeat to compensate for what we are lacking.  If eating slowly is a challenge, try putting down your utensils between bites.

* If you have tendencies to emotional overeating, try to do deep abdominal breathing before you eat.  Also, journaling thoughts and feelings in a stream of consciousness style can be helpful before meals.  Pause to get in touch with what you are really needing, what you are really hungry for.  Is it food, or is it something else?  In my practice, I help patients to get in touch with that something else.

Most importantly, honor yourself with gentleness and patience.  All the suggestions above are just that – suggestions.  Do not berate or judge yourself if these feel difficult and hard to follow.  As your body/mind/spirit comes more into its natural state of balance, all will come naturally, without effort.

                                                                                                                                    2006 Patricia A. Muehsam, M.D.

                      Dr. Muehsam is a holistic medical doctor practicing in New York City. She can be reached by phone at (212) 946 - 5700.

                                    Click HERE to see Dr. Muehsams listing on The Healing Directory.

                              * A version of this article was published in The Epoch Times on April 23, 2006


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