In summer we often graze through the garden, feast on fruit, or skip meals altogether because we’re too involved with various activities to stop. Who doesn’t want to race outdoors first thing to enjoy the sunshine, cool morning weather, or a luscious garden? However, not eating, or eating insufficient amounts of food for your body’s needs, can cause lots of health problems down the road.
I was reminded of this recently when I saw a teen in my clinic with chronic kidney infections. The doctors had already given repeated rounds of antibiotics, but while the infections would go away, they kept returning. When I examined her tongue, I noticed that her kidney/adrenal region was extremely depleted (the far rear region was deeply indented), especially for someone her age. I also noted that she was quite thin.
So I asked her – did she skip breakfast? I was not surprised to hear her answer – that not only did she skip breakfast but often lunch, too. The reason for her recurring kidney infections clicked – she had depleted her body’s resources. She hadn’t given her body enough food to support its needs, causing the recurring kidney infections. In other words, this teen was not putting enough fuel in her body, so she was running on fumes.
What happens if we skip breakfast, lunch or just graze throughout the day? The body has to obtain energy from some place and if it’s not coming in through food, then it scrounges for it within. That means the body dips into its own reserves to access the energy it needs. Those who carry more weight have fat reserves to obtain the stored sugar there. This glycogen is converted to glucose and then there’s power to run all the needed functions. Bodies that have little fat have to find energy from elsewhere. Translated into Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), this means the bodily essence is consumed, compromising its Qi, Blood, Yin, and Yang. At first this translates to mild symptoms most people ignore. But eventually, the more the body’s essence reserves are depleted, the more severe symptoms occur down the road.
The body’s essence can be likened to a combined trust fund and savings account. The “trust fund” is the inherited constitutional strength you receive from parents and grandparents. The “savings account” is derived from the food and drink you consume after birth.
Some folks receive a strong “trust fund” and can do anything or eat nothing and still have plenty of energy and health. Others who inherit weaker constitutional strength more easily develop illness or degenerative conditions, often earlier in life. Likewise with diet – some eat healthily during childhood and so have more “savings” to draw upon, while others who were fed poorly have less to use.
While symptoms start out with tiredness, poor appetite, poor muscle strength, anemia, dizziness, blurry vision, frequent urination, scanty menses, depression, anxiety, or insomnia, eventually low reserves lead to hypo-functioning of various organ systems and then burnout, like running the engine without enough oil. In time this can cause hormonal problems, low libido, premature aging, bad or loose teeth, weak knees and legs, hair loss, impotence, habitual miscarriage or infertility, brittle or softening of bones (collapsing joints, spine, hips, and so forth), poor memory or concentration, and senility. Not a very pretty list!
Since there’s nothing you can do about your inherited constitution or how you were fed when young, guarding your “savings account” is crucial to maintaining good health and preventing illness through the rest of your life. That means what you eat and drink has a huge impact on your well-being and what you can do. Eating three meals a day, consuming sufficient protein for your body’s needs, and limiting intake of health-robbing foods such as sugar and caffeine can make all the difference not only in your health, but also your quality of life.
When we’re young, we think these things won’t happen to us and we merrily go on our way continuing our current habits. But clinically I often see the other side where young women – and even men – in their twenties already experience hot flashes or infertility, and older women who can no longer enjoy hiking let alone gardening because of painful joint collapse.
It’s easy to forget to eat balanced meals during summer. And yet, while you may feel lighter, freer, lose weight, and/or have more time on your hands, just snacking on easily obtainable food exhausts your body over time. In fact, slipping out of the house without breakfast at any time of year is one of the most common depleting habits today. I see plenty of adults who skip breakfast and/or lunch so they can continue working through the day and they come in to my clinic with health problems.
Herbs can help supplement your essence, although they won’t replace eating sufficient healthy food and meals. The best herbs to use are Blood, Qi, Yin, and Yang tonics combined, adaptogens, rejuvenatives, restoratives, or herbs that support hormones like rhodiola, maral root and shilajit.
But the best treatment of all? EAT – three meals daily, especially breakfast!