Diet therapy the Chinese way
LENOX -- Acupuncturist Rebecca Schir ber, who studied and worked as a chef for four years at the EnlightenNext spiritual center here, is teaching classes on Chinese diet therapy. The aim, she said, is to balance different foods in a holistic way for good digestion and well being
"A lot of what we as a culture eat is sweet." she said. "It is good if [the carbohydrates are] whole foods, but too much sweet injures the digestive system."
While no food is out of bounds in Chinese medicine, she said certain food combinations are believed to cause unbalanced feelings such as anxiety, grief or over-excitement. Other combinations aid digestion.
In traditional Chinese diet therapy, for example, beef and onions would never be cooked together because they are both foods that create high, excited energy.
"If you don't digest beef well," Schirber said, "it can be tenderized by cooking it with a pit fruit -- cherry, apricot, peach, plum. Sprouts help digest carbohydrates."
Schirber said her class can help teach people to eat in a more holistic way, but stressed the need to change one thing at a time.
"When people change their diet slowly, one food at a time," she said, "they can ask themselves, ‘How does this feel?' They feel better when they eat in a more balanced way. That is the motivation to continue to eat that way."
Chinese diet therapy uses big doses of one food or another "for the body to have a therapeutic response," Schir ber said.
However, she said, "If someone has been shown to be allergic to a certain food by Western medicine, we would not encourage them to eat that food. If someone is in a state of deficiency we would recommend nourishing foods which are easily assimilated by people who are deficient."
According to the Chinese Five Element dietary therapy she promotes, eating with the seasons supports a person's life balance.
The five elements correspond to each season: spring /wood element; summer/fire element; late summer/earth element; autumn/metal element; winter/water element.
Each element has a flavor: wood/sour; fire/bitter; earth /sweet; metal/pungent; water /salty.
Each element supposedly supports two organ systems of the body at the same time as it nourishes the organs of another element and decreases the energy of still another organ system.
"You want to have [all of] the five flavors at each meal because each flavor supports a different organ system," Schirber said.
She said she will teach these and the balance of Yin and Yan energies, warm and cold and damp and dry body conditions as considered in light of Chinese medicine,
Schirber said that her first year of acupuncture study at the Tai Sophia Institute in Laurel, Md., from 2001 to 2004 was completely about Five Element Theory.
"We are looking at the energetics before we get to needles," she said.
She said she continues to study acupuncture and Chi nese medicine 15 to 30 hours each week
"The energetics of food has been of special interest to me though out the 11 years I've been studying Chinese medicine," she said. "I am presently studying Chinese dietary therapy with Jeffrey Yuen at the Chinatown Wellness Cen ter in New York City. There's so much to it. It never ends."
She said her class will start out as an open, ongoing one, teaching the five elements as each season comes along.
"At some point I will close the class for people who want to go deeper but I will still have the open, ongoing class."
The foods Schirber makes and eats and will demonstrate for her classes are whole foods. She prepared a table of them last weekend.
On it were raw dandelion greens, raw and lightly steamed green beans, sliced raw celery and fennel, whole scallions and leeks, a bowl of just sprouted mung beans and a salad made of them that included diced cooked sweet potatoes. She made hummus to dip the vegetables in as well as a bowl of well-cooked collard greens sautéed with garlic and raisins.
Schirber, one of 16 sisters and brothers, was raised in rural Minnesota, daughter of a physician father and well-organized mother who painted for recreation.
"By the time I was eight I could cook for 17," she said.
"When we turned 13, that was the year you learned to make bread." She said she and her siblings spent every Saturday of their 13th summers baking bread for the family for the whole week: two pans of cinnamon rolls for Sunday breakfast; two pans of dinner rolls for Saturday night; 10 loaves of bread of their choosing.
"I have a long history of cooking from scratch. A lot of people used to cook, but they don't cook any more and that's what I'm trying to change with this class -- helping people recognize how they can support themselves with food and have a life."
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