Academy for Five Element Acupuncture is taking part in Blog Action Day, whose topic this year, in honor of World Food Day on October 16, 2011, is Food.  I also want to thank Julia Susman, Class 27, for her help in being able to write about food in an authentic voice.

In Chinese medicine, food ismedicine. Dietary therapy works in conjunction with acupuncture treatments and herbal formulas to help heal disease in the body. The foods you choose to eat work to nourish the organs; balance is achieved by eating foods of different energetic qualities. And different foods are better for each given season. It’s a very different way of thinking about balanced nutrition than what we’re used to in the west. I cannot begin to concisely explain the complexity of  food energetics. But I can share with you how my student practitioners have helped me heal, physically and emotionally, with the simplest (and hardest) of food choices.

I came to the student clinic to deal with my never-ending headaches. As the headaches began to subside with treatment, the digestive woes that had become “normal” to me became clearer to my practitioner. She asked a lot of questions about symptoms, and a lot of questions about my diet. I’d sort of been living on my safety food, natural peanut butter, for literally years. It was my favorite food, my comfort food, and the one food that I felt was “safe” to eat.

One day, my practitioner stated, very carefully, that she thought it might be time to give up peanut butter, that that might actually be causing some of the trouble. She talked about studies that had recently found that people were allergic to the molds that grow on ground nuts, not the nuts themselves. She talked about how damp and cold peanut butter is, which makes it difficult to digest for those people who have weaker digestion and need to stoke up their digestive fire. What I heard was, “I’m taking away your safety food.”

Most of us have comfort foods- we associate all kinds of emotion with food. On exam days here at AFEA, our Executive Director usually brings dark chocolate and her infamous “aussie bites” to show love and support through a tough day. Class 26, our senior intern class, bakes up a lot of tasty gluten-free cakes and cookies to celebrate birthdays and encourage each other. Food can be a way of sharing love, but it can also be harmful when the emotion associated with the food overshadows the food itself. That was peanut butter for me: comfort and love. It was attempting to nourish something other than my body.

So, you might be able to imagine what it was like to be told I needed to let go of my safety blanket. Talk about frozen in panic. What was really amazing, though, was that my practitioner saw my fear. She had been expecting it. Through the several weeks that we’d been working together, she had had the opportunity to get to know me as a person, and as a patient. That was why she didn’t tell me that I had to give up peanut butter that day. No dictate, no deadline, no judgement. She simply laid the groundwork to empower me to make my own choice to change.

Over several more weeks, as my herbal formula began to build in my body and as my acupuncture treatments cleared emotional cobwebs, I revisited the peanut butter issue on my own. I’d had time to step back and evaluate two things: the physical reactions in my body, and the emotional clinging to a food. After awhile, I was ready to make the decision on my own to experiment with not eating it. Once I gave it up, the biggest physical issues that I was having resolved themselves. I also realized that giving something up wasn’t the sacrifice I had thought it would be.

We know from all of the reports of the growing obesity epidemic that poor food choices can harm the body- physically and mentally. We also know that making smart food choices can heal the body. Making those healthy food choices requires education and empowerment. For many people in our country, food is not about nourishment. It’s about what tastes good; it’s about connecting socially; it’s a way to deal with problems in our lives that we can’t necessarily control. We need to shift mentally in how we approach food in order to use it appropriately.

And that’s what AFEA student practitioners are doing: they’re working with their patients to help them make better choices, to educate, to empower, and to heal.