It’s hard being a sensitive human in the world today. There is so much going on politically and environmentally these days it can be overwhelming, especially when adding our own personal struggles into the mix. It’s easy to feel stressed out about these things and we have good reason to stress - but let’s not let that stress sink in and affect us physiologically, if we can help it. Self-care practices are essential, time to think, process, and rest are required for many of us (both yin responses, relatively), while action and activism are equally important tools in balancing how we deal with this kind of stress (the yang of it). One way we tend to deal with stress can be over-eating, eating our “stress food” of choice, going too long without eating and over-working, or doing too much thinking while we are trying to eat and nourish ourselves / digest. All of these common practices can lead to stagnation in the gut or other organs, digestive deficiency, or chronic depletion. What if we all adopted a new way of “stress eating”? One that worked towards balancing our already over-burdened bodies and allowed for more space, ease, and ability to function at our highest potential when we truly need it most. This type of eating is what I call Earth-Centered eating, and I love teaching people the reasons why it works so well and how it aims to restore and aid digestive function, nourish qi and blood, and support us in our most trying times.
Earth-Centered eating is based on Chinese medicine dietary therapy and some simple rules of food energetics. When we are stressed out, our bodies are working on dealing with that stress in many biological and hormonal ways - none of which are geared towards digesting food well. Our rest/ digest state and our stress state are two very different places to reside. A stress state could be due to challenging parenting phases, periods of no sleep, a stressful job that requires much of your time on and off the clock. relationship crises, illness recovery, family dramas, shocking political events, etc (and perhaps a combination of several of these, as is normally the case). We carry these tensions with us as they happen, sometimes deep within us, and it’s hard to let them go, especially if they are ongoing or chronic in nature. When so many of our resources are being used to survive stressful situations, to endure that fight, flight, or freeze mode, we have minimal resources left for digestive function and optimal nutrient absorption. If we have less energy going towards digestion and the transformation of food into energy - the worse we feel, and our stress grows even more! With this in mind, what can we do to help our digestion when we find ourselves in a situation where we can’t really drop our stress easily? I promise that eating that pint of ice cream at night is not the answer - although, I feel you. Our digestion falls under the phase of Earth in Chinese medicine 5 Element Theory. Earth phase is about nourishment, grounding, centering, return, stability, care of self and others. You can easily see how eating and the digestion of food belongs to this phase in the scope of all that. To boost the qi of our Earth organs (the spleen and stomach), we can eat foods that require less energy to digest, that are warm, pre-cooked, moist, and slightly warming in nature. Think of our digestion like a boiling cauldron pot, with each food we put in, we have to cook that food in the pot before we can digest and transform it into energy. If we put raw, cold, or frozen foods in - the pot will get much weaker as it works to bring it back up to cooking temperature. This slows down our entire metabolic process and requires much more work from our bodies. If we put in foods that have already been pre-cooked - steamed, blanched, or sauteed - our cauldron stays boiling as it breaks down these components and quickly whips them into usable energy for our cells. We can help our digestive function in this way, especially when we know we have limited resources to begin with. One of the main foundations of Earth-Centered eating is to eat mostly cooked, warm foods, to enable your digestion to stay as active as possible. Soups are a great way to start. I look forward to sharing more on Earth-Centered eating and how to apply it to your life here on the blog, as I see this becoming more and more important to people across the board. Meanwhile, here is one of my favorite recipes for an Earth-Centered chicken soup that I return to over and over again when we are in big transitions, need a reset, or just having a stressful week:
Green Chicken Soup with Rainbow Carrots
2 organic chicken breasts
8 C water
2 large garlic cloves, minced
4 stalks celery, chopped and leafy tops reserved
1 bunch green onions, chopped and ends reserved
2-3 rainbow carrots, chopped and tops reserved
1 C white or brown jasmine rice (can sub cauliflower rice, if desired, at 2-3 C)
1 large handful parsley, chopped
1 large handful cilantro, chopped
In a large pot or dutch oven, bring 8 C salted water to a boil and place chicken breasts, celery tops, onion ends, and carrot tops inside. Boil about 25 minutes until cooked through and tender. Remove chicken from pot and set aside, strain & save all broth. On medium heat, saute garlic, green onions (save about 1/8 - 1/4 C of these for garnishing at the end), and celery in a few glugs of olive oil in the same pot for a few minutes, then add chopped carrots. Saute a few minutes more, then add the rice, stirring it all together well. Add back in the reserved chicken broth you made earlier, cover and cook for another 20-25 minutes until rice is cooked completely. While this starts cooking, shred the chicken and add back into the pot, giving it enough time to cook along with the soup for awhile. Once the soup is almost done, add in most of the herbs - chopped parsley and cilantro - and give it a whirl. Taste and add more salt, if needed. When you are ready to serve, add more fresh herbs and green onions on top for garnish.
Shortcut — Shred an organic / hormone and antibiotic-free rotisserie chicken and skip the homemade chicken broth step. Start with cooking your garlic and veggies in oil and just add in 6 C of store bought organic chicken broth (that’s 1 48 oz box) + another 1-2 C water, in place of the homemade broth. Saves a lot of time and makes this meal super easy to prepare. I do it this way 50% of the time!