Everyone has heard the saying “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day”. Sadly though it is often the most skipped. If you have been dealing with weight issues, low energy, or unclear thinking, you should really reconsider when opting out of breakfast. Eating in the a.m. starts your day off right and here’s why.
From a western scientific perspective, breakfast triggers the bodies metabolic functions. According to a recent study from Baylor College of Medicine, Louisiana State University AgCenter and Texas Woman’s University, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, children and adolescents that eat breakfast have healthier nutrient profiles and a lower prevalence of obesity compared to their non-breakfast eating counterparts. This study looked at a cross-sectional data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination survey (1996-2006) from 9,600 children and teens ages nine and eighteen. This study is not alone, while browsing the internet one can find study after study supporting the fact that consuming breakfast is associated with lower body weight. This is because starting the morning with a small meal increases the metabolic rate (how fast you burn calories) and kick starts your body into gear, telling it what to expect the rest of the day. If you skip breakfast, your body goes into starvation mode and tries to hold on to the nutrients consumed rather than burning them right away.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) not only is eating breakfast important but how and what you eat are also crucial. It is really common in our modern culture to eat in your car on your way to work, while your working, or while watching a television program. All this weakens the digestive fire (energy). Mental distraction actually impairs the bodies ability to optimally break down food.
It’s important to:
- Sit down to eat
- Chew food well
- Pay attention to eating vs t.v., driving, etc
- Not skip meals
TCM views the Stomach and Spleen as a cooking pot that breaks down food that is eaten and then turns it into energy and blood for the body. The Stomach is the cauldron and the Spleen is the digestive fire that warms the pot up. The Stomach cooks and breaks the food down, sending the pure part of the food to the Spleen to be distributed to the rest of the body and eliminating the wast as feces and urine. It is important to maintain a strong digestive fire. What food you eat for breakfast really affects the strength of the digestive fire. My teacher and local acupuncturist Lisa Wilson D.O.M. broke it down like this. She said to imagine your digestive fire as literally a wood burning stove. Anyone who has ever tended a fire should be able to follow this pretty well. If you haven’t just try to imagine. When you go to bed, the fire is still going but will eventually turn to embers throughout the night. When you wake up in the morning, the easiest way to get the fire going again is to stoke the fire with some kindling rather than having to build another fire. Eating a smoothie, raw fruit, or cold cereal in the morning is the same as putting undried pieces of wood onto those embers. It will take FOREVER for your digestive fire to break that down if it doesn’t just put the fire out completely. It also creates dampness in the body. It just doesn’t have enough “umph” at that time. Eating a huge American style breakfast with bacon, eggs, pancakes, hash browns, etc is the same as throwing an oversized piece of wood on those embers. Again, you’re working with embers here that don’t have the power to break it down properly which will result in dampness. Dampness slows down the transformation of food to clear energy and blood. The ideal kindling you want to eat to reignite your digestive fire is congee or warm cereal.
Congee is a traditional porridge made from rice but you can make it with any whole grain (groats, quinoa, millet, rice, barley, etc). Warm oatmeal would be considered a congee. I remember being in Laos and watching people eat fish porridge in the a.m. and thinking how gross that was but really they were eating the ideal breakfast. Now, I am not suggesting you eat fish porridge (unless you want) but I am suggesting you try warm cereal. You will be amazed how your digestion and body respond. For many of you that just don’t feel hungry in the a.m. (which by the way is NOT a good sign), you will begin to notice that you wake up with an appetite. That’s great! That means your metabolism is going and you will be burning everything you put into your body the rest of the day. Just like most things in Chinese Medicine this will probably not be your overnight cure to weight issues etc, but over a period of time I guarantee that you will see a difference in how you feel and how your digestive system functions.
Some symptoms of dampness in the body are
- fatigue, body heaviness, sluggishness
- excess weight
- cysts, tumours
- yeast infections
- bloating and gas
- unclear thinking
- chronic sinus infections
- cloudy urine
- thick tongue coating
How do I prepare congee?
Congee is easily prepared overnight in a crock pot. If you do not have a crock pot, it can be simmered on the stove over very low heat. It is important to use clay, enamel, glass or stainless steel for cooking. Do not use aluminum or iron pots, as chemicals from these pots can leach into your food.
Suggested cooking ingredients for 1 serving:
1 part grain (1/4 cup)
5 parts water (1 ¼ cup)
Combine in crock pot and cook on low overnight (8 hours). You should adjust the proportions of grain to water until you get the consistency of congee that satisfies you the most. Increase serving size as desired. For added flavor, you can add your favorite appropriate spices (see suggestions below). Your health care practitioner may suggest specific flavorings or added nuts, fruits, vegetables or herbs that would be most beneficial to you.
Suggested congee grain combinations:
To reduce excess water weight, try brown rice/barley, cinnamon, and ginger.
To strengthen the adrenals and warm digestion, combine millet/buckwheat/rye, allspice, and cinnamon.
GRAINS: rice, millet, barley, rye, oat groats, spelt, quinoa, amaranth, wheat berries
SPICES: cinnamon, bay leaf, allspice, ginger, nutmeg, cloves
NUTS/FRUITS: jujube, lyceum berries, walnuts, dried cherries, almonds, pumpkin seeds
VEGGIES: sweet potato, carrots, pumpkin, spinach, squash
FLAVORINGS: gomasio, molasses, honey, maple syrup, rice milk