In the world of happiness, wellness, and overall good health, balance is the objective for most of us. We’ve all had the experience of too much of a good thing as well as too much of something that’s not good for us. When we do get off kilter, there is usually something internal or external that signals to us that it’s time to make some adjustments. In regards to physical health, our body is our closest friend in letting us know when we’re out of balance.
Many nutritional systems are centered around the concept of balance and can be very helpful from a dietary and health perspective. The approach of many of these approaches is to treat the body as a unified representation of both the physical and mental aspects of each of us individually as well as our interconnectedness to the environment and the world around us.
The Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang is a great example of a balanced approach to health. Yin and Yang are considered opposites with Yin representing the cooler aspects of nature such as the moon, night time, darkness, and cold. Yang on the other hand represents light, heat, sunlight and daytime. From a food perspective, there are what’s considered “expansive” yin foods and “contractive” yang foods. The belief is that when one consumes too much of either one, imbalances and even disease may develop.
Some examples of yin foods include raw or slightly cooked foods (steamed, boiled, etc.), fruits, legumes, vegetables, seaweeds and cooling herbs. While examples of yang foods include meats, eggs, high-fat foods, coffee, heat producing vegetables such as onions and garlic, herbs such as cayenne and cinnamon, and foods that are cooked. Balanced foods (neither yin or yang) include rice, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, some dairy products, and sunflower and sesame seeds.
Another approach to balance that also originated in Chinese Medicine is the 5-phases or elements theory in which qi, life energy, is impacted by the balance of wood, fire, earth, metal and water. These elements correspond with the time of day, the seasons, colors, tastes (sour, biter, sweet, hot/pungent, and salty), certain foods and other properties (emotions, sounds, organs, etc.). The easiest way to use this system is to simply choose a variety of different foods with different properties and to select foods that are in season. Additionally, if you are someone who wants to strengthen certain organs, there are foods that benefit specific parts of the body.
A final system I’d like to mention is Aruyveda which originated in India over 5,000 years ago. The basic idea is that all of life is composed of three energy elements; air, fire and water. Depending on your particular dosha, or unique constitution, you may be predominantly vata (air), pitta (fire) or kapha (water) or a combination of 2 or all 3 (tridosha). Your constitution is genetic and greatly impacts your biological and psychological framework. There are specific dietary, medicinal and lifestyle guidelines for each dosha that can help you address imbalances that may be causing excess weight, disease, and emotional, mental, and psychological instability.
At the end of the day, most of us know that too much of any one thing isn’t good for us in the long run. Whether we’re talking about food, spirituality, relationships, family, fun, physical activity or any other area of our lives, it’s important to find balance. Although restricting ourselves from certain foods, environments or circumstances is a great approach to managing our health and happiness in the short run, for me the key to long-term success is moderation and being able to simply recognize when some re-balancing is necessary and take action.
One particularly great approach that I learned from one of my teachers was called “crowding out”. The idea is that when you add more of what’s good for you physically and emotionally, you naturally crowd out those aspects of life that deplete your wellbeing. In relation to food, this system makes it easy to include more healthy food in the diet without feeling like you have to eliminate everything that you love. However, with less room in your body for foods that aren’t as good for you, you’ll find yourself on a path to better health and overall balance which is the key to living a long life and feeling good.
Food and Healing by Annemarie Colbin
Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford
Conscious Eating by Gabriel Cousens
Institute of Integrative Nutrition
Published On: March 15, 2010