In Western culture, most of us follow the Gregorian calendar and ring in the new year at midnight on January 1. But around the world, particularly in Asia, many cultures observe the lunar calendar, based on the cycles of the lunar phases. In late January to early February, many countries will be celebrating the Lunar New Year. On January 28, Chinese New Year will bring families together to share a meal, give red envelopes with lucky money, and even set off fireworks. In Korea, Vietnam, and many more Asian countries, celebrations will be taking place to ring in the Lunar New Year and prepare for the year ahead.
That got us thinking: there’s always something to learn from people and cultures who do things differently than we do. In many ways, Asian cultures approach health differently than Western cultures. As we move into 2017, what lessons in health, wellness, and eating could we learn from Asian philosophies? We did a little digging — here are some inspired health ideologies from the other side of the globe that could be just what the doctor ordered.
Hara Hachi Bu: Eat Until You Are 80% Full
The Okinawan people have the highest life expectancy in the world – maybe you’ve heard about them before. Recently, news reports were flying about indigenous people on the Ryukyu islands of Japan and how their lifestyle contributed to a much higher life expectancy than the rest of the world.
Part of their longevity can be attributed to the practice of hara hachi bu, also referred to as hara hachi bun me. In Japanese, the phrase loosely translates to “belly 80 percent full.” This practice is simple but pretty transformative: condition yourself to stop eating until you are full, and instead eat until you are just 80 percent full. This practice curbs overeating, helps calorie control, and gives your brain the time it needs to catch up with your stomach — research shows it takes about 20 minutes for the brain to process how full you actually are, leading to that overstuffed feeling you often get after a big meal.
Balance Your Body’s Yin and Yang
Traditional Chinese medicine asserts that food is medicine, and medicine is food. In fact, practitioners often use the natural warming and cooling nature of foods to help balance the yin and yang of a patient’s body, especially when they’re sick or afflicted in some way. From psychological distress to congestion from a cold, many Eastern cultures utilize the elements of food for prevention and treatment. Traditional Chinese medicine divides food into five natures: cold, cool, neutral, warm or hot. For now, we’ll focus on warming and cooling foods and how that relates to yin and yang.
Here’s how it works: cooling foods are connected to the body’s yin, clearing toxins, cooling heat, and calming the blood. Foods like apples, bananas, tofu, cabbage, eggplant, and green tea are considered yin foods. Warming foods are connected to the body’s yang, increasing the yang energy of organs and warming the blood to increase circulation. If you’re experiencing fatigue, joint pain, stomach problems, or poor circulation, you can increase your yang by eating foods like apricot, chives, onion, walnuts, chicken, black pepper, chilli, and coffee.
Live in Harmony with the Environment
As a focus on eating healthy, fresh food grows in Western culture, it’s not such a stretch to suggest we also adjust what we eat in response to our environment. In traditional Chinese philosophy, the food you eat should balance the natural elements of the weather. Further, this idea encourages people to eat foods that the environment naturally provides, or simply put: eat what’s in season. For example, during Winter, you should eat foods like squash, potatoes, root vegetables, and winter greens. Focus on meals that are warming to your body, like soups, broths, roasted nuts, and whole grains.
The idea here is to create a harmonious relationship to your environment. Relating this concept back to the idea of cultivating yin and yang, traditional Chinese medicine says that you should focus on yang (warming foods) in spring and summer, and yin (cooling foods) in autumn and winter.