This is going to be a monster long post, but if you read it, I swear the payoff is worth it.
I can’t believe it’s only the first week still. The progress, the rich sense of purpose, and forward momentum is sooo going there. Day Four began with an acupuncture appointment for L, and I have been looking forward all week to this so I could meet the acupuncturist and talk to her about L’s symptoms in the Chinese tradition, what she’s focused on in their weekly treatments, and her opinion on what L should be eating right now.
This is where it gets fascinating. The acupuncturist didn’t mention Lyme once in the conversation (and again didn’t mention it when we delved a little deeper at the end of the appointment, also). In the Chinese tradition, microbes or pathogens that carry disease can only flourish in an environment where there is damp accumulation. This, and that fact that L is an earth constitution in Chinese thought, point toward a spleen Qi deficiency. Here’s a translation of the notes the acupuncturist scribbled down for me to take, and a summary of what she imparted to me:
Earth Constitution | Blood Type O
Spleen Qi deficiency
Damp accumulation | phlegm obstructing channels
Liver Qi stagnation/toxicity (due to the high number of medications in her system)
Focus: strengthen the spleen, clear/transform damp/phlegm accumulation, and
harmonize the liver
Recommended reading: Peter D’Adamo, “Change Your Hereditary Destiny”
L is Blood Type O = decrease/eliminate high glycemic index –foods (really sweet foods
like orange juice, bananas, peanut butter, ketchup, sugar, cashews, etc. – sucks for the cashew cream, eh?)
Recommended foods for the liver/spleen situation: agave, cranberries, lemon, lime, nectarine, peach, pineapple, apricot, mushrooms, zucchini, almond oil, olive oil, yams, sweet potatoes, peas, amaranth, millet, basmati, quinoa
L should not be eating hardly any raw food. [More on this in a moment…]
L should possibly be eating 2 oz. of lean animal protein like chicken sometimes [More on this also…]
The acupuncturist is stoked that L is off wheat and dairy.
The acupuncturist was thrilled to meet me, thrilled at what I’m doing with L, and really made me feel recognized and acknowledged for the purpose to which I’m on the scene now. She told me that Paul Pitchford’s Healing with Whole Foods was absolutely where I should be informing myself, and was happy to hear that I’m so there.
So, I did some reading of what our beloved P. Pitchford has to say about all of this…I feel totally illuminated. Not only do I see L in this and resonate with this, but it totally drives home the point that nutrition plays a large, if not decisive role in L’s healing, especially in regard to her nervous system:
The Earth Element’s related organs, the spleen-pancreas and stomach, are primarily responsible for the digestion and distribution of food and nutrients. The qi energy and other essences extracted from digestion are used by the body to create wei qi energy (immunity), vitality, warmth, and the formation of the tissues [including nerves, people!] and mental functions…Those with general signs of spleen-pancreas imbalance are characterized by…compulsive “stuck” behavior that prevents them from developing [so much of L and I’s conversations recently have turned to “up-ing her fight” and turning up the drive to get active and soldier in her healing]…when they have weight problems, they tend to be overweight without overeating…and accumulate possessions…deficient qi energy of the spleen-pancreas is common among…those who are malnourished due to a diet of refined, highly-processed foods…[are you ready for this?] Those with spleen-pancreas qi deficiency are predisposed to additional problems. The qi of the spleen-pancreas, often called the “middle qi,” animates the periphery of the body. The strength of the arms and legs depends on this qi, and weak limbs signify a deficiency of it.
[Pitchford, pgs 341-342]
Let me be clear here. The primarily debilitating effect of L’s condition/Lyme has been peripheral neuropathy, i.e. degeneration of the nerves (and therefore muscles) on her hands and feet. L has difficulty doing things like writing, walking, gripping, etc. She is a trooper though, and is working so hard (and has been for over a year) in her physical therapy and is regaining mobility. So I find it amazing then that in the Chinese system, the place responsible for the digestion of food and distribution of nutrients, when in imbalance, can adversely affect the energy that animates the periphery.
Is anyone else having an A-HA! moment, or is it just me? Let’s also peek at what Pitchford teaches us regarding dampness accumulation (this is a juicy case for veganism – no pun intended!):
Dampness can invade the joints and acupuncture channels. Movement becomes difficult, numbness may appear, and if there is pain, it is fixed in one place…Damp diseases in general have a sluggish, stagnant quality and often take a long time to cure…Many chronic illnesses involve dampness. Fully two-thirds of the typical diet in the United States consists of animal products, which promote any type of dampness…rheumatoid arthritis, and other apparently virus- or micro-organism-related degenerations usually involve pathogenic dampness in conjunction with various other contributing factors.
[Pitchford, pg 344]
It is obvious at this point, then, that of the six divisions of yin/yang (cold, heat, interior, exterior, deficiency, excess), it ends up that I should mostly think of L’s diagnostic profile (in the Chinese tradition) in terms of deficiency versus excess, and plan the menu accordingly. The foods I want to be looking for then are those that build spleen qi, detoxify the liver, clear/transform dampness accumulation, and strengthen the liver/spleen/pancreas in general. It’s totally coming into focus more and more.
And here’s the deal with the no raw/only cooked thing: a weak spleen-pancreas indicates neglect or ignorance of the Earth Element at the level of food (I feel like I could do a whole post on that one statement). Properly preparing food then becomes crucial. The spleen/pancreas/liver have to work extra hard to digest raw food (cooking helps break down molecular components for easier digestion), and this taxes an already weakened digestive system as well as takes energy to do – energy that the system could be re-directing toward the healing process. The dietary suggestions for deficient spleen/pancreas is about eating warming, neutral, easy-to-digest food so that it can build up balanced qi again.
Apparently the acupuncturist’s '2 oz of chicken' recommendation is because of L’s Type O blood type, and the fact that she is therefore prone to hyperglycemia, which animal protein (in small lean portions every so often) can neutralize effectively. I completely respect that stance, and also here are my thoughts: obviously, I’m vegan, and at this point I know that digestion of animal products requires much enzymatic activity in the digestive system – and aren’t we trying to help digestion be as simple as possible, given all of the above? Also, the Peter D’Adamo eat-for-your-blood-type thing has been met with a considerably amount of expert resistance. Now, I do think there is something to it, as I do kind of resonate with it, personally. My fiancé is both vegan and type O blood, and he easily becomes peckish, has a fast metabolism, and requires constant mindfulness of his protein consumption. I am AB blood type – which, according to D’Adamo’s model, is one of the best and easiest to subsist on an exclusively plant-based diet. So here’s my conclusion for now: I am going to be mindful of L’s protein intake (I know this is important for healthy nerves, so of course I have an eye here), and I am going to remind her to be very open and honest with me regarding cravings. She tells me now she has zero meat or dairy cravings (how cool is that!? It just goes to show how much her body needs and is loving this right now, in my opinion). If she does, we’ll look into the 2 oz. Although, I have to be honest here – the thought of preparing flesh at this point kinda freaks me out. Perhaps V could help out on that one, if it comes to that. And as far as the whole hyperglycemic/meat relationship – we’ve cut out SO much, if not close to all, sugar. So do we really need meat (which we know clogs her system, when we’re trying to eat to unclog the system) to neutralize/help metabolize sugar? However, I remain open, because:
At no point is this about projecting my own value system onto another, or trying to indoctrinate L or V.
What this is about is L and V letting me be their guide as we journey toward treating this condition nutritionally – due to the nature of the condition combined with the nature of L’s dietary style at baseline, this means as vegetal a diet as is possible, along with the extraction of foods containing gluten and sugar, not just animal products (meat and dairy).
And we are already seeing results. L has lost 3 pounds (in the first 4 days), does not feel deprived, has an increased amount of enthusiasm and focus (in my opinion, compared to day one), self-reports a decrease in mucus/phlegm, leading to decreased snoring (according to V), and L’s daughter, the acupuncturist, and the physical therapist all commented on how well L seems to be doing right now and overall progress as of recently (I feel like this project got started at the perfect moment). After acupuncture, L told me there were certain needles in her feet that she could feel when they were being inserted (implicates some potential increase in peripheral sensation already?).
Can I get a hallelujah?
So, day four dinner was fun. G and J finally came over and the five of us got a chance to hang out and talk about it all (and a variety of other topics) all the while: 1) I prepared a tofu stir fry for dinner that night, 2) J simultaneously prepared a meat[less]loaf for dinner on day five, and 3) G went through the pantry (bless him! Four brown grocery bags and one huge plastic garbage bag later…seriously). It was an active, loving, inspired environment and the sounds of laughter, cooking, and conversation filled the air. This is such a family endeavor. We are all joined in this healing. It’s an amazing feeling.
In leiu of a really explicit, directive recipe for the stir fry, here’s some overall tips and tricks that J imparted to me that really transformed the appearance, nutritional quality, and taste of my/our stir fry action:
Tofu Stir Fry Tips______________________________________________________________
· Having a wok helps greatly.
· It’s all about timing. Plan your work, and work your plan.
· Coconut oil is great because it holds up at high heats, doesn’t splatter, is super good for you (in moderation, of course), and puts a nice golden brown color and semisweet flavor on the tofu when fried in it. Cut your tofu into approx. 1” x 1” x 1” perfect cubes or to your own liking. Put enough coconut oil in the pan (it stores as a solid, but liquefies when heated) to come 1/3 to ½ of the way up your cubes of tofu when they are sitting in the pan. Get a good golden brown, flip. Repeat. Tongs are suggested.
· Here are some of my favorite vegetables (and a fruit) for a good stir fry, in the order you would add them to the wok:
o Green beans
o …you get the basic idea. Those that take longer for the most part go first, and those that you really don’t want to overcook go last. For the denser greens (broccoli, snap peas, green beans, etc.), you can boil some water and due a super quick blanch on those, drain, and then add to the wok in the last few minutes of the stir fry to speed things up and ensure that those things that take a shorter amount of time to cook don’t get overcooked. We don’t want to cook all the nutritional content out of the vegetables.
· Here’s the deal on sauce if you don’t want to from-scratch it (if you do, there are plenty of recipes out there): there is righteous, gluten-free, vegan, organic teriyaki out there. I don’t have access to the bottle at the moment, but I’ll give a shout to the brand name later. It was tasty. I know G really wants to come up with a good home-made teriyaki. Perhaps that’ll be a later post. Anyway, the order is: a little coconut oil, your vegetables, the pre-fried tofu, and save sauce for the very end.
· Here’s the deal on cooking rice on a stovetop burner: do not, I repeat do not lift the lid during the long simmer. Steam is vital to the process. And when it’s done, leave the lid on with the heat off for five minutes before lightly fluffing with a fork for a split second and then serve. Maybe this is common knowledge, but I had no idea. In so many ways I am still such a novice in the kitchen – it’s so funny and ironic the faith walk this all is. Let’s be honest – I am no expert, I am in a learning process, I am totally enabled by G and J (mad props, bros), and I am rising to the occasion through faithful obedience. [Wow, you never know when a discourse on rice will turn into a total personal reflection moment.]
· Here’s the deal on chopping 'the J way' for a stir fry (specifically), and I’m totally enrolled in this now: you want angular, same-sized pieces throughout, and you want to think of your cut in terms of what will create the most exposed surface area of the inside of the vegetable. Does that make sense? Don’t cut on the perpendicular – cut on a very acute/obtuse angle. There’s something mystically satisfying and flavor-boosting about this.
Did anyone actually read this whole thing?
I promise it won’t always be such a lecture, I’m just so inspired by the momentum already, I’m learning so much along the way that is so convicting, and I feel strongly compelled to document as much of this process as I can (without sacrificing sleep and appropriate down time). I have a sense it will be important later for many reasons.
Coming up soon:
- More about dampness and excess/deficiency in the Chinese system: a deeper look into yin/yang balance as it pertains to L’s healing process
- The meatloaf recipe, with a recipe for easy roast potatoes to accompany it
- Other recipes still on the horizon: vegan brunch bonanza, an Indian feast (that makes my mouth water just typing it), and a minestrone soup that turned out really lovely
Go tell someone you love that you love them.