One of the reasons I embarked on a nutritional course was my experience with a Japanese diet called Macrobiotics. When I picked up my first book, things seemed to click and make sense, and I began to swap pointless calorie counting for healthier methods of food selection. There was no going back after that, and the more I learned about food, the more convinced I became that the way we eat significantly impacts our life.
Macrobiotics comes from the Greek word “macro” meaning large, and “bios” meaning life, and looks at food in terms of energy. Food is classified as either being yang and having a more contracted energy, or yin and having a more expansive energy. Certain qualities and foods fall within the two ends of the spectrum:
It is said that each end of the scale is extreme in its effects; so while one organ in the body becomes contracted from certain foods, another organ other becomes expanded. For example, when eating meat and sugar, the stomach and the liver tighten while the heart and large intestine expand. Extreme foods are also more difficult to digest and use, leaving excess fats or toxins in the body, which are stressful to remove. Macrobiotics essentially states that to keep a balanced body, we need to eat energetically balanced foods, and these come from the center of the chart, with almost equal amounts of Yin and Yang.
Our bodies always seek balance and so Yin and Yang can help us explain certain cravings that we may have. As an example, if a person was to eat meat, eggs, and salt which are down the Yang end of the scale, it is likely that their body would crave things up the Yin end of the scale like sugar or alcohol, in order to create balance. This is why after a meal of chicken we might want a dessert afterwards or fizzy drink to go with it. Likewise, if we have lots of sugary sweets and chocolate we may crave something like salty crisps afterwards.
I remember particularly saying to a teacher of mine that this didn’t apply to me as I had stopped eating meat but I still craved chocolate, to which he asked if I was stressed. Of course I said yes. He then explained that stress creates a tension and contraction in the body, which is Yang energy, and causes us to crave something that will relax this, which is found in the Yin-ness of chocolate. Similarly for menstruating women who crave sweet things, it is explained in the idea that the process itself is very Yang.
While it looks ideal to just swing from one end of the scale to the other and be fine, it unfortunately doesn’t quite work this way. If we continue to swing from the extremes, it can create extreme effects on our health and wellbeing.
Physical effects of consuming too much Yang include deep tension, stiffness, excess energy, a loud voice, and high muscle tone, whereas consuming too much Yin produces surface tension and shaking, lack of vitality, low muscle tone, and a soft voice.
In terms of psychological effects, consuming too much Yang can lead to a insensitivity to others, aggression, self-assertiveness, stubbornness, a materialistic attitude, unnecessary concern with the past, and denial of spiritual aspects of life. Consuming too much Yin can produce over-sensitivity, defensiveness, low confidence, dependency on others, lack of firm views, lack of orderliness, denial of material aspects of life, and being overly concerned with the future.
You may find that you recognise certain characteristics in yourself and that they are either Yin or Yang, or you may find that you take on certain traits from both energies. This is perfectly normal and just suggests that you may want to look into finding a bit more balance, both with the foods you eat and the activities you do. If you are up one particular end of the energy spectrum, such as Yin, you may want to eat mainly balanced foods but include a few salty seasonings like miso or soy sauce; or if you are more towards the Yang end you may want to eat mainly balanced foods but include a few extra.
What I loved about macrobiotics was that there is no set rule for everyone, and every day can be different. If you are feeling more Yang one day then you can eat a bit more Yin, and vice versa. It is about being in tune with your body and learning to hear what is it telling you. You can change your energy and the energy of those around you with a simple meal, and while it sounds like I’ve become a complete hippy, talking about the spirit of food, I encourage you to just experiment and see what you notice!
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