Tag Archives: diet

The “Elemental Diet” – a brief look at the approach to nutrition for optimum health from a Traditional Thai Medicine Theory point of view

I hate doing cardio at the gym. This much I have in common with 95% of my clients. However, in the ultimate effort of turning a negative situation (cardio) into a positive one, when I really think about it, the time that I am forcing myself to spend sweating on a pushbike going nowhere is actually one of the few opportunities that I have to read a book without stealing precious time away from other Reading a book at the gym while doing cardioimportant tasks. Apart from the rower most other cardio machines are great for this purpose: plonk the book or tablet (as in my case) on the little ledge at the front of the settings screen and you are ready to go.

By the way, this tactic works better when doing steady cardio, if you are doing HIIT it’s unlikely to work as most of your resources will be devoted towards completing the sprints in a safe and efficient manner and you won’t be able to concentrate on the book.

One of the books that I managed to read in this way is “Seven Peppercorns” which has nothing to do with Fitness Makeovers™ but contains some surprising gems of knowledge with regards to nutrition for optimum health from the point of view of Traditional Thai Medicine. As a Thai Yoga Massage practitioner I couldn’t resist buying it as it provides answers to the many questions I had about my chosen style of holistic treatments and it helped me understand better the framework from within which Thai Massage evolved into the beautiful healing art that it is today. Even after reading the book I am still scratching the surface and, in fact, have more questions, but at least I know a little bit more.

SUPER QUICK INTRO TO THAI ELEMENTAL MEDICINE

Cover of "Seven Peppercorns" - click to buy on Amazon

Click the image to purchase this book on Amazon

Quoting directly from the book: “Traditional Thai Medicine has five different roots: Medicinal Sciences, Physical Therapies, Spirit Medicine, Divinatory Sciences, and Buddhism (which can be seen as the mental health root). These roots are bound together by two common threads: Buddhist concepts and view, and Thai element theory. (…) it is the basis upon which all traditional Thai medical diagnosis and treatments are founded”.

According to this theory there are 5 elements that make up everything in our world: our bodies, the trees, the earth, the sea and our thoughts. These elements are: Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Space. It’s believed that ‘it is the balance, or imbalance of these elements that is the root cause of all health and disease’.

In a nutshell, according to Traditional Thai Medicine (but other cultures have also similar theories) the 5 elements that make up our bodies are:

  • Earth represents solidity and its qualities are that it’s hard, stable and heavy. Earth is tangible, it has mass. The function of the Earth element is to provide support like a skeleton or a building. In our bodies Earth is everything that has mass, like bones, the organs, the skin and the nails. The element of Earth is closely linked with the element of Water without which it would crumble.
  • Water is also a tangible element. It literally represents everything that has fluidity within us: blood, sweat, tears, synovial fluids. Water brings cohesion to our bodies and keeps us supple and moist.
  • Fire is heat or the lack of. It’s bright, reactive but it’s also dry, rough, mobile, causes aging, emotions and fever among others. It’s associated with the sense of sight, with digestion and with the urge to move as well as with the articulation of ideas. For those of you who are into numerology it is associated with the number 4. Whereas the previous two elements are tangible Fire is more similar to a metabolic process rather than a physical part.
  • Wind is movement. This includes breathing, speaking, running, gesticulating, and so on. It’s light and dry, cool, abrasive, subtle. Like Fire, Wind is also considered to be a metabolic process more than a physical element although it’s associated with the sense of touch. It’s the lightest of all the elements and it’s therefore the easiest to throw out of balance.
  • Space is the hardest element to grasp: it’s emptiness, it’s the atmosphere but also the empty spaces within our bodies. Its nature is to be expansive and it can be used to relate to our minds: are the open and ready to receive or are they full of thoughts, feelings and ideas? The element of Space relates to our bodies via the orifices by providing the gateway between the environment inside and outside of the body.

CORE ELEMENTAL CONSTITUTION AND DIET

Now that we have set the scene we can get to the juicy bits leading to the “Elemental Diet”. Please remember that this is just a “curiosity exercise” for fun and it’s not meant to be the next fad diet or fitness program. Got it? OK, here we go…

When it comes to physical appearance and diet we only look at the first 4 elements listed above: Earth, Water, Fire and Wind. Each one of us tends to have a constitution that expresses one or two of these elements more than the others. This “core elemental constitution” affects us in every respect: physical appearance, predisposition towards certain diseases and even character traits. Depending on which element is dominant within us we can follow some basic nutrition principles that will serve us best.

Earth, Wind, Fire and Water

As a general rule, it is recommended to always eat quality unprocessed foods preferably organic, seasonal and whole foods, home cooked whenever possible. It’s best to eat when you are hungry and before you become famished and stop when you feel satisfied but before you are full. Food should be well cooked and warm as raw and cold foods can be hard on the digestive system. You could make some distinctions based on the weather: when it’s hot eat sweet, bitter and astringent foods, when it’s cold choose hot pungent, sour and astringent foods and when it’s rainy or stormy go for aromatic and warming foods (things like cinnamon). Don’t eat after 7pm. Good sleep is always recommended as is exercise although not the intense cardiovascular variant as it’s seen as being too strenuous on the heart. Truth is that’s exactly one of the reasons why we do it, to train the heart but hey, on bad days I’ll go all Thai from now on and skip cardio! Now let’s take a look at each element and see what specific advice is available for them.

Earth element

“Earth people” in Thai tradition are very similar in physical appearance to what we would call endomorphs, i.e. strong and muscular or heavy set, big boned and will have a squareness of shape. Mentally, “Earth people” tend to be grounded, resistant to change, not keen on travel but with a balanced and compassionate disposition.

Earth people will do well on a balanced diet with plenty of organic produce that is nourishing and well cooked. As long as they follow the general rules they will be fine.

Water element

“Water people” tend to have a voluptuous figure and healthy complexion. Like the Earth people they also tend to have a large frame, with a steady stride. They can have a tendency to being overweight but they are usually known for their beauty. Water people can have slow digestion and when injured they are also slow to heal. This general slowness in the movement of fluids leads them to retain toxins for longer and therefore be prone to illnesses. Mentally, water people “tend to be easy-going and flexible with an inner sweetness. They are often intuitive” and have a natural talent for the arts. Very emotional they can find it difficult to embrace new ideas quickly.

Coffee is a big no-no for Water people who should also avoid having cold foods like fruit and yogurts for breakfast and concentrate on warm foods instead. Raw foods are also not good for them as is consuming meat and sweets. The best foods are cooked vegetables, rice and pungent spices. Engaging in active exercise with lots of big movements will be beneficial.

Fire element

“Fire people” tend to have slightly reddish or tan complexions. Red heads will undoubtedly have fire as their dominant element. Physically they are average build but strong and athletic, their eyes are clear and sharp. Mentally they can be very intelligent and articulate, driven, good leaders even when they lean towards being selfish. They can also be short tempered and aggressive.

Spicy foods are not that good for fiery people who should lean towards eating cooling foods. Three large meals are better than smaller ones as long as their digestive system is firing on all cylinders. Black coffee is best avoided as is alcohol. Bitter foods such as rucola, radicchio and mustard greens are great. Moderate exercise in cool surroundings is beneficial.

Wind element

“Wind people” tend to be similar in appearance to what we refer to as “Endomorphs”: with light thin bodies that can be either very tall or very short. They also tend to have dark complexion, smaller eyes and find it difficult to stay warm. Like their Fiery counterparts, they can be very intelligent especially academically and quick learners, however their communications can be superficial and “flighty” quickly jumping from one subject to the next. They can be anxious, nervous, creative but also overstimulated.

The best foods for Wind people are those that are highly nutritious and with aromatic spices. Plenty of oils and healthy fats are good, as well as good quality dairy products. It’s best to eat several smaller meals throughout the day than just two or three larger ones. Food should be either steamed or otherwise well cooked. They should avoid raw foods as well as engaging in extreme dietary restrictions.


What surprised me the most as I read the book was that it actually included a whole section about nutrition and exercise. I bought it because I wanted to learn more about the philosophy behind Thai Yoga Massage as a bodywork art and discovered just how “wholistic” this medicinal system is not focusing on symptoms of disease but instead taking care that all the “systems” within the body are in balance and what to do to keep them that way. Fascinating.

None of the above classifies as “new and revolutionary” information but it provides perhaps an additional framework from which we can review our eating and exercising habits when we don’t seem to achieve results in a timely manner. Could it be that by making a few simple changes according to what we think (there is no testing as such involved, it’s more down to intuition) is our core elemental constitution we will see a difference?

As a final thought, I found all the comments about eating whole and unprocessed foods preferably organic rather interesting. I am sure this part is heavily influenced by modern times as I doubt very much there were things such as glyphosate at the time of the Buddha, however it’s funny that in the XXI century we spend so much time reading and discussing the virtues of organic food as if it was a novelty when it really was the only way of life for so many thousands of years.

Oh! And what about the “Seven Peppercorns”? Well, apparently if we swallow 7 black fat juicy peppercorns first thing in the morning we will enjoy better digestion, less wind and less stressful thoughts during the day.

I think my primary elemental constitution is predominantly fire with some wind and a splash of water. What’s yours? Let me know in the comments below. 🙂

No fridge? No problem. What to do when the shit hits the fan.

If you have been following me through my blogging challenge you will be well aware of how important good nutrition is for me. And I am sure that because of that you will be able to imagine just how horrifying it was for me to wake up last Thursday to discover that my fridge-freezer was no more.

In truth I knew this event was imminent but not that imminent. The signs were all there: ice a foot-deep inside the freezer (it was meant to be a no-frost appliance), crazy amounts of condensation in the fridge compartment, loud clonking noises, rust everywhere and the vacuum seal not so sealing anymore. Having read the installation instructions for the new one I now wonder if placing the jars of Kombucha on the top because it was warm played a part in expediting the demise of my appliance. Anyway, it happened.

In my infinite wisdom and perhaps a mild panic attack I somehow managed to not see that there wasn’t a next day delivery option available on the website where I purchased the replacement from and so I spent the last week (just as the weather turned really mild) without a refrigerator and a tonne of fresh food just delivered. To add to my woes I am almost half way through my “Project 8” and eating correctly and at the right time is imperative if I want to shrink and shed fat at that level.

What to do? Make a plan to either use or preserve what I had as long as possible.

First up were vegetables like baby spinach and mixed baby leaves: they tend to wilt very quickly, mines are organic but the company that delivers them has them flown in from Italy so by the time they get to me they are already a couple of days old and need to be eaten fast at the best of times. The calories they provide are negligible so I didn’t hesitate to eat almost all of them in one go.

Second was the meat I had in the freezer. Thankfully because there was more ice around the top and sides than space both the turkey and the pork were still frozen but defrosting so I decided to cook them and then store them in an air tight container resting on an ice pack. I then went on a very high protein diet for a few days eating insane quantities of turkey breast slices at each meal just so I wouldn’t have to throw them away.

Up to the weekend the only casualties were the milk and the spring greens that decided to decompose inside the fridge compartment because I didn’t realise it was actually keeping everything really warm. At this point I removed everything and stored it on the table trying to think which produce you would find in the non refrigerated aisle at the supermarket. Onions, garlic, some green things, peppers, sometimes tomatoes and herbs. And eggs. And vacuum packed cheese. As you can see below.

nofridge

The hardest thing to do was deciding what to eat with what I had on the table before the local store closed at 8pm so that I could go and fetch just the bit of meat or fish that I needed. As the days went on, eventually, the ice in the freezer melted too but over the weekend it was a bit like going for a picnic with a giant ice box in the middle of the kitchen.

It’s always nice to have a takeaway on a Saturday night and it was even nicer on this occasion because it took the pressure off us to find something to cook at the last minute. But on Sunday, after Hamilton got bitchslapped by Rosberg at Montmelo, I decided to celebrate by creating a “whatever is still edible” kind of dish. I decided to use up all the remaining home made pesto with some pasta and the surviving turkey breast to make a highly modified version of a carbonara. To make it healthier I added the only 4 non-decomposed spring greens leaves to the pasta and fried an onion with the turkey breast. Plus raw eggs and cheese. Eating starches as part of the last meal of the day has two advantages: 1. it helps sleep better, 2. it ensures that I don’t wake up feeling ravenous the next day. Amazingly, this random combination of ingredients worked incredibly well and we’ll make sure to repeat the experiment soon, just because.

Then, of course, come Monday I ran out of almost everything, especially time. And so I thought it would be a good idea to have a go at intermittent fasting. This is usually done for extended periods of time either side of sleeping time, i.e. fasting between say 8pm and 11am, however for me it had to be breakfast early am and dinner late pm with only water during the day. The advantages of intermittent fasting are that a) it’s convenient at super busy times and b) it helps raise the production of human growth hormone which is responsible for muscle growth and fat burning. I tend to have whey protein mixed with cocoa powder and nut butter for breakfast, this combination provides me with the protein and amino acids I need to ensure I don’t lose my muscles and keeps me satiated for up to 6-8 hrs even when I do a lot of physical work like Thai Yoga Massage treatments, gardening, etc.

I cannot do this for more than 1 or perhaps 2 days in a row without my metabolism fighting back while I am busy running around all day juggling clients, emails, animals and home. However, when necessary, it’s a brilliant way to boost my fat loss while at the same time giving myself room to enjoy whatever I fancy for dinner without exaggerating with portion size or having to worry about calories reduction. This will happen naturally during the course of the day whilst also forcing my body to use excess stored fat for fuel. It works a treat and the difference it makes in body composition is immediately visible and “Project 8” got a mahoossive boost instead of a blow from my cooling woes.

And being that I am writing this between “blogging Tuesday” and “Thankful Thursday” I can’t help but think about how much I take the luxury of having a fridge and being able to preserve my food for granted. Yes, for a moment I thought my whole world was coming to a warm end, there have been challenges during the past week as I had to incorporate this new variable into my daily life but I soon got used to it and tried to frame the whole situation as “what would my grandparents have done in the same circumstances as they often were during the wars?” or “if I had to live in a tent (not glamping) what would I do?”.  Going basic has in fact been amusing and have re-discovered that sticking a bottle of cider on a bag of ice cubes is actually better than keeping it in the fridge.

whatever risottoBy the way, the new fridge has now arrived. It looks monolithic all in black (matte of course). And having had enough time to cook earlier I was able to create another “whatever is still edible after a week” kind of dish: this time it was a celery, carrot and dried porcini risotto with scrambled eggs (protein), a generous portion of Parmigiano Reggiano and the last splodge of warm Vermouth Bianco. Hic!

🙂