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Transitioning to Macrobiotics – Staying the Course November 8, 2008

Most people have their favourite foods, foods which they have been eating for years and with which they have associated an emotional tag. It could be that chocolate in their families have been used as a reward to good behaviour when they were children and as adults, chocolate might have continued to be a favourite food because of the ‘feel good’ associations. In fact, when one drills down to the first time she or she had a food which they particularly enjoy, it is amazing how many emotional memories are associated our favourite foods.

In my family, we were mad about the big-head prawns fried with lots of chopped chillis, onions and swimming in the red chilli oil. We would fight over who would get the serving dish once it was empty so that we could put in some pure white rice, stir it around until it was a glistening vermillion, then eat it with the crunchy bits of burnt chillies.

As an adult, I look back on those days and shudder. But while I don’t eat that particular dish anymore, those big head prawns still stir memories in me of happier times with my family, before death and disease began to take people away.

Today, I may eat one single such prawn in a 12-month period. You see, even though I know, in my head, that such food may not be entirely food for me, what with the cholesterol impact and all, my heart says – let me revisit that memory once again.

And it is this emotional aspect of food that is the tough part about staying the course in the macrobiotic approach to eating. This is even more difficult if, because of a health condition, you might have had to switch to macrobiotics ‘cold turkey’, as I had to. There is no transition, and therefore, when your taste-buds are instantly deprived, they protest – and loudly.If you are taking chemotherapy when you make the transition, it is even worse because you are feeling poorly, and your tastebuds are going nuts, crying out for all sorts of sustenance because the body needs nourishment due to the assault from the drugs.

A good transition means a strong race

How do you stay the course in such circumstances? Well, mainly, transitioning is a mind-over-body effort. In other words, use your mind to manage the demands of your body.

Eyes on the Prize

First of all, be clear about why you are on the diet and what you expect it to do for you. If you choose the diet because you want to end up stronger than ever before at the end of treatment, or at the end of six months, then focus on this goal. There will always be temptations – try to resist. If you can’t, don’t be too hard on yourself. Enjoy your detour for what it is, then gently bring yourself back on track by eating to balance out the detour.

For those taking chemotherapy, it is essential that you continue to eat. Many times, I encounter people who are unfamiliar with macrobiotic cooking styles and end up cooking  bland, boring food for fear of ‘breaking’ the diet. They end up resenting the food because it is boring and unappetising and they cannot eat it.

Again, understand that this is not what macrobiotics is all about. Macrobiotics is about freedom and empowerment. So we ask that you first understand what your body is going through and try to support it macrobiotically. Learn how to substitute. Learn how to cook the food within your own capabilites or interest level. Understand your body’s signals. Try to give your body what is wants, but make the appropriate adjustments and compromises, based on what you know about the food and its ability to support your health. But the food cannot help you if you do not eat. So, make all efforts to eat – even it if means taking drugs to enhance your appetite.

Being Unfaithful

I am sometimes asked about planned cheating. How often can you stray from the diet? Well, if you are on the healing diet, I would say – as little as possible. During a course of treatment like chemotherapy is the ideal time to rebuild your body. Your cells, having been decimated by chemo, are regenerating. With good quality nourishment, those cells will be good cells, just what you need to combat years of poor quality cells. Sometimes it is as much as about what you don’t put in, as it is about what you do put into your body. However, in the initial stages, it is hard to remain faithful – so plan your ‘cheating’ so that you ensure you are eating macrobiotically at least 80% of the time. If you are in good health, then you make your choices based on what your body feels. If you have been eating macrobiotically even for 2 weeks, eating too widely will produce a reaction that will tell you what your body will and will not tolerate.

It’s about Quality

Secondly, if you have to eat outside the stricter guidelines, then do so with high quality ingredients at the centre of the food spectrum. For instance, choose organic ingredients, choose vegetarian, and choose vegetables that are close to the centre of the spectrum ie those which are close to the top of the soil, or root vegetables.Avoid meat and meat products, even chicken stock. The kind of growth hormones used in most meats these days make them poor health choices. Even so called organic meat is not ideal since the food chain is so long and complex, we can never be sure if there was hormones used in the animal feed, for example.

Operation Dinner Out

Thirdly, be strict about the condiments and seasonings used. For  example, if you choose the fish course, ask your waiter to tell the cook to use olive oil instead of butter. Ask for steamed or poached fish. Ask for steamed vegetables with the dressing or seasoning on the side. Choose local white fish. Choose clear soups rather than cream soups and try to get a soup with vegetable stock. Avoid cream sauces. These days, with the focus on health, most restaurants do have a vegetarian section on their menus. To ensure they do not try to add more seasonings to make sure you feel the food is ‘tasty’, tell them that you have a heart condition, a food allergy, etc. The thought that you might have a fit or some sort of health event in the restaurant will usually keep our seasoning-happy chefs on the straight and narrow.

Conversations With Your Navel

Finally, it is sometimes about the mind-body conversation. Your body is crying out for Kentucky Fried Chicken, or a Big Mac. Rather than suppressing that cry, forcefully telling your body that it is bad for you, try to understand why you have these cravings. Usually, it is not the food itself, but the taste sensation you might want. Out tongues have 5 taste sensations – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent. In any one day, We should try to satisfy all sensations, or the unsatisfied one will start to demand its stimulant. So if you feel like eating something sweet, give your tastebuds something naturally sweet – like corn, or dried fruit. Be gentle with yourself – try to reach a compromise with your body. You don’thave to deny it completely.

There is also the possibility that you may be out of balance. You may have been eating too many yang foods – such as fish, beans, or lentils, or food that is highly seasoned – and so to rebalance things, your body is crying  out for something yin. Be aware of this, and bring your eating back to centre. Focus on something else and your body will soon settle down.

Changing lifestyles can often be uncomfortable. But you made the decision to change for valid reasons. Stay the course, remind yourself of the whys. Bring your mental faculties into play when your body makes demands, and your body will eventually thank you by being stronger – with more energy, vitality and a positive life outlook.

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