Many people suffer from mood swings, anger, irritability, sadness, anxiety, fearfulness and dread. Many young persons suffer from ADD and ADHD. Both adults and children either suffer in silence (maybe the children not so silently) or resort to pharmaceuticals, often with unpleasant side effects, to relieve symptoms. I was working on a post to describe how profoundly our daily food affects our condition, behaviour and perception when I came upon this article written by renowned macrobiotic teacher and counsellor, Barbara (Gale) Jack:
Many years ago I worked as a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) as well as a school psychologist in Texas where students were referred for psychological evaluations because of their behavior. One such student was labeled “autistic” and never spoke at all. The behavior modification plan employed was to give him M and M candies as a reward if he made any sound! Another was so hyperactive that he could not remain in his chair more than five minutes even on medication. One young man in a special class kept undressing himself day after day. Another had an epileptic seizure in my presence. I was touched by their suffering and puzzled as to why each one exhibited that particular symptom or behavior. When I began practicing macrobiotics I began to inquire into the student’s eating habits and recommend simple dietary changes to the parents. These ideas were not well received. Some parents complained that I was not a nutritionist or doctor. They felt my “specialty” was the mind and emotions.After many years of eating a grain-based diet, I see even more clearly that mind and body are one and food has the power to create mental stability and feelings of well being as well as anger, anxiety, depression, fear, hyperactivity and many other symptoms. Today, anxiety attacks, eating disorders, depression, alcoholism and many other conditions are considered “ disorders of the brain” that affect a person’s moods and feelings and influence their ability to relate to others and enjoy day-to-day activities. The words “schizophrenia” or “paranoia” can strike a note of fear in the most balanced person. Yet mental balance can be restored with the macrobiotic way of living and eating.One must understand which foods are yin and which foods are yang, the five transformations of energy along with the organs, foods, and conditions associated with each, whether a particular “disorder” is basically yin and yang or a combination of both and finally, and how to adjust the energy in the diet through proper cooking. So let’s begin:
Yin foods that are detrimental to mental health:
Drugs, alcohol, milk, ice cream, whipped cream, sugar, honey, fruits (especially tropical fruits), fruit juices, raw oil, mayonnaise, cider and wine vinegars, potatoes, tomatoes, carbonated beverages, carob, canola oil, and (unfortunately for women) chocolate (!) as well as chemically processed foods home care and body care products, (especially hair bleaches, colors and permanents.)
Yang foods that are detrimental to mental health:
These include meat, cheese, eggs, poultry, baked flour—salt, hard baked bread, deep-fried food, salty crackers and chips, as well as too much dry, pressure-cooked rice without balancing factors.
The Five Transformations Theory:
In this theory, life energy or Ki comes into and goes out of existence through five stages: the upward moving stages are referred to as tree and fire energy and the downward moving stages are referred to as soil or metal energy. Water is a floating stage where energy is just beginning to move like in the early morning hours.
Water energy is related to the kidneys and bladder and is associated with more floating, flexible, adaptable thinking. Strong kidney energy is necessary for self-confidence, high self-esteem, the realization of goals and dreams, -- making money, bearing and raising children, running a business, managing social relationships and all day- to-day activities. Imbalances in these organs are associated with timidity, fear, hopelessness and paranoia. Foods that nourish the kidneys include buckwheat, beans (in moderation) and sea salt.
Tree energy is associated with the liver/gall bladder gives birth to feeling idealistic, happy, optimistic and romantic. A person with a healthy liver and gall bladder is patient, persevering, hopeful and optimistic, fun to be with, and looks easily to the future. Such a person an begin new projects at any time, learn new skills, have visionary ideas for creating a business, decorating the home, planting flowers and gardens and so on.
Imbalances in the liver or gallbladder give rise to irritability, anger, thoughts of violence, and, in the extreme, hatred and violent actions. Rapidly growing young greens, sprouts, a sour taste, fermented foods such as sauerkraut and pickles as well as barley and wheat nourish this energy.
Active, upward, expanding Fire energy that is like the energy we experience in the middle of the day or middle of summer is associated with the heart and a bright, active mind. People with this nature may enjoy participating in many different sports or becoming avid sports fans or cheerleaders. They are intrinsically outgoing, usually enjoy music, videos, weddings, and many other social events. They often exhibit a passionate nature and enjoy affairs of the heart as well. Fire energy is associated with the heart, small intestines, brain and central nervous system. Extreme sensitivity, excessive talking and nervousness are caused by imbalances in this organ. Large leafy greens, foods with a slight bitter taste such as burdock and watercress, corn and some fruits nourish this energy.
The stable, downward energy associated with soil and the spleen/pancreas/stomach is a balanced energy and creates a
thoughtful, considerate, compassionate, and a slightly more inward type person. This person may prefer to read than go to a movie for example. They are often also involved in activities related to the earth such as food production, food sales, teaching and writing about diet and health, or cooking. Anxiety, doubt, skepticism and worry are associated with imbalances in this area. Spleen energy is nourished by the naturally sweet taste of grains, especially millet, and round vegetables such as cabbage.
The condensed energy sometimes referred to as “metal” energy is associated with the lungs and large intestines and creates a self-reflective, orderly mind that can easily begin and run a business, master the computer, learn different languages easily and guide others. Stagnation in this area can contribute to sadness and chronic complaining in the initial stages but continued imbalances can create obsessive-compulsive behaviors as well as depression. Rice, root vegetables and foods with a slight pungent taste such as leek, turnip, and daikon nourish this energy.
There are two cycles that illustrate the interaction between these energies. One is the Cycle of Support – in which each energy generates, produces or nourishes the succeeding element. Wood nourished fire, fire produces earth, earth generates metal and so on. The other cycle is the Cycle of Destruction in which one energy destroys or limits the energy of an opposite nature. Fire destroys metal, soil harms the kidneys, tree energy limits soil energy and so on.Applying this to food, if a person takes too much food that has with downward, condensed energy (especially animal food but also hard baked flour) it will suppress tree energy and manifest initially as impatience and frustration but if continued over a long period of time, can create anger, emotional outbursts and violence. It can also contribute to the formation of gallstones and the premature graying of hair.Excess energy in the kidneys from salty animal foods, overly salted beans, buckwheat, too many beans, tofu, tempeh, and soymilk, cold foods and drinks, will suppress the heart and can create high blood pressure, constricted arteries, or just a lack of a happy, outgoing disposition. Hyperactivity, excitability, excessive talking and nervousness are also symptoms of excess kidney energy while deficient kidney energy is often the cause of depression.Too many fire nature foods such as alcohol, drugs, tropical fruits, spices (especially garlic and peppers) excess liquid and fruit can affect the lungs/large intestine and have a disturbing effect on the mind. Spices can also create sweet cravings as one attempts to calm down the excessive energy.Accumulation of protein and fat will lead to hardening of the pancreas and chronic low blood sugar, as the organ loses its ability to secret anti-insulin. Excess energy in the spleen/pancreas weakens the kidneys, lowers one’s self-confidence, creates cravings for sweets, dairy and fruits (especially in the late afternoon when the atmospheric energy begins to come down.) that in turn lead to feelings of timidity, worry, and sometimes mood swings. In the extreme, it can create anxiety, suspicion, jealousy and sleep disturbances. Hypoglycemia, chronic low blood sugar in the pancreas, is the underlying cause of most depression and emotional turmoil. The heavy fat from animal food and eggs, salted cheese, red-meat and blue-skin fish such as salmon and tuna; shrimp, lobster, tuna, especially when taken fried or with mayonnaise or butter, make the pancreas stiff and hard and prevent anti-insulin, the hormone that raises blood sugar, from coming out smoothlyHealthy functioning of the lungs and large intestines are necessary for sound mental health. As a whole, the brain and central nervous system are yang—small and compact—and attract more yin substances such as drugs, medications, synthetic vitamins, food and mineral supplements, and other extremely expansive substances. Whole grains, good quality plant foods, including vegetables, sea vegetables, seeds, nuts, fruits, etc. are essential for the proper functioning of the brain. Lack of fresh, well-cooked plant foods will impair sensory development.If you would like to create a brilliant mind, then eat foods with a more condensed energy over a long period of time including hard boiled eggs, hard baked bread or cookies, and take with lemon juice. Just understand that you may become self-centered, withdrawn, isolated, stubborn and uninterested in social activities.
Conditions and Disorders:
Generally, psychosis, physical abuse, paranoia, and lack of verbal communication are caused by excess yang energy while hysteria, suicidal tendencies, and schizophrenia are from excessive yin energy. A South African doctor observed, “I can say that in the past 11 years I have not diagnosed a single case of schizophrenia in a tribal African living on an unrefined carbohydrate diet, whereas this disease is the commonest psychosis among the urbanized Africans. Dr. G. Daynes associated the rise in mental illness to the widespread consumption of white sugar and refined corn flour.” (T.L. Cleave, The Saccharine Disease; Bristol: John Wright & Sons, 1974). Both extremes taken over a long period of time contribute to paranoid schizophrenia and bi-polar disorders. Bi-polar disorders, sometimes referred to as manic-depressive disorders, are characterized by mood swings between depression and periods of excitability and hysteria. The underlying cause of prejudice and hatred is hardening of the arteries, which contributes to a narrow, constricted view of people of other races, religions, ages and cultures.Modern treatments such as psychological counseling will temporarily relieve the symptoms. Discharging your feelings with an understanding, sympathetic person can provide great relief but if you continue to eat the same foods, you will continue to recreate the same problems and concerns. Medication can also relieve symptoms but not the cause and it can create problems in other organs. Only by deepening our understanding of yin and yang and the five transformations of energy and applying this understanding daily to how we cook and take our food, can we create a balance mind in ourselves and guide others to create it for themselves.Practically speaking, it’s very difficult for first generation macrobiotic people with a long history of animal food eating, drug use, surgeries that weaken the immune system, lack of family support, lack of financial resources, etc .to change their condition. Proper cooking takes mental focus, patience, and time. It also takes time, special drinks and remedies, and lots of chewing to dissolve the stagnation created by past eating. The key is in moving away from extreme foods, turning your kitchen into a laboratory and reflecting on the behavior and thinking that comes when you and others take the foods you prepare. (Ideally every family member should be a good cook.) All journeys begin with a single step and the first step is to reduce (if one cannot eliminate) animal foods and make whole cereal grains the center of the diet. In the meantime, I like what a friend said to me recently, “Everyone is doing the best they can under the circumstances.” So given our circumstances, let’s all continue to work together to restore mental balance in ourselves and others and in that way make our contribution to world peace.``