“Don’t you just love New Year’s? You can start all over! Everybody gets a second chance”.
The above is a quote from the well-loved movie, Forrest Gump. Believe it or not, there are some people who actually hate this film. They find the plot completely implausible, and it’s sentiments too saccharine. Those criticisms may well have some merit, but I’ve always liked the film anyway because of the realness of its secondary characters, Jenny and Lieutenant Dan. Of course the plot is unrealistic, but the emotional traumas that Jenny and Lieutenant Dan must overcome in order to finally find happiness are all too real. I believe that this is where the heart of the film lies, not in the rather flat character of Forrest Gump himself, who never loses faith in life, in those he loves, or in himself, as the rest of us humans often do.
I particularly like the above quote because of the way it is delivered in the film, and also because of who delivers it. Forrest Gump is at a bar in New York with his friend Lieutenant Dan, when two hookers show up. They are acquaintances of Lieutenant Dan, if not actually his friends. It is New Year’s Eve and the ball is about to drop in the middle of Times Square in New York, and that’s when one of the hookers says this line. The remark only becomes unusual because of the way the expression on her face changes. At first she is exultant, and then turns thoughtful, as if she is suddenly realizing something, and then her expression turns into something very like fear.
I imagine that this is how many of us approach the new year, especially those of us who have been around the block a few times, and who have tried, in various ways, for various amounts of time, to finally change ourselves for the better. We are fearful because we have tried in times past, and we never seem to meet with success. We are afraid that we will fail yet again. Maybe it’s a long-standing goal to lose that extra weight we’ve been carrying around for the last few years. Maybe we’re determined to finally get into an exercise routine that we can stick to. Or maybe we’d like to finally stop smoking once and for all.
Perhaps the most common goal each new year: we want to change our diet. To stop eating all that sugar, to avoid that white flour, or to eat more fruits and vegetables. Because our food is our body’s fuel, we know how important it is to eat right, and yet when deadlines approach and kids get sick, when our nerves become tense with stress, our diet is usually the first thing that falls apart. Before too long, we’ve been eating fatty take-out meals for much of the week and are struggling to get back on track.
It’s at this time that the monsters in our minds will re-emerge, blaming ourselves for our failures. We lose hope because of how often this cycle repeats itself. We can get back on the wagon, but how soon will it be before we find ourselves working late yet again, and quickly filling our stomachs with a chocolate donut because our blood sugar levels have dropped? Our lives have become so busy, and our commitments so many, that it’s become increasingly hard to take care of ourselves and our families in the most elemental way: by ensuring that we all have healthy and nutritious food available for every meal of the day.
At Sensible Health, we have a list of foods that we recommend everyone avoid because they congest the liver, or weaken the spleen and kidneys. The foods which congest the liver include; deep fried foods, spicy foods, high fat dairy products, nuts, chocolate, and caffeine. Foods which weaken the spleen/pancreas and kidneys include; white flour, white sugar, citrus fruits, tomatoes, bananas, raw vegetables, and cold drinks. So often, when people see this list of foods, they wonder what they can eat because it seems that we’ve taken all of their favourite foods away from them. And indeed, it can initially be a bit of a challenge.
This is why I always recommend that you begin slowly, changing only one thing at a time if the entire list overwhelms you. For the first week or two, perhaps you can stop eating citrus fruits. While lemon juice is known to detoxify the liver, it is also quite cooling in nature and can create excess “dampness” in the body, which weakens the spleen/pancreas. When the spleen/pancreas becomes weakened, we will no longer produce adequate enzymes for the proper digestion of our foods, and much of our diet will be unassimilated. Naturally, this will weaken our entire bodies over time.
Citrus fruits are very helpful in the hot and humid environments in which they are grown. Their naturally cooling nature helps to combat the heat, and their ability to lubricate keeps our body tissues from drying out. However, because citrus fruits can now be shipped long distances and are available to us all year round, this often means that we continue to eat citrus fruits regularly even during the winter months, when warming and drying foods would be more appropriate. It is not so much that citrus fruits are always bad, as that they should be eaten with their particular properties in mind so as to keep the body in a state of balance.
For the second few weeks of your new diet, perhaps you can try drinking only warm beverages rather than cold ones, if you don’t already do so. Cold drinks will have the same cooling effect on our spleen/pancreas as cooling foods like citrus fruits, tomatoes and bananas. If you avoid cold drinks for a few weeks and then suddenly drink them again, you will notice right away how first your stomach, and then the organs to the sides of your stomach clench up and become tense. Your digestive organs cannot function well when they have contracted like this, and more of the energy of your body will be spent trying to warm these organs back up again so they can function properly. This is energy that would be better spent keeping your metabolism warm and firing, to prevent you from becoming fatigued or from gaining excess weight.
However great the changes you must make to your diet so that your goal of improved health is reached, go slowly and be immensely patient and kind to yourself as you make these changes. Forgive yourself if you make a mistake, and instead of bashing yourself, try to use your energy more positively by making a plan so that the next time your life falls apart, your diet is less likely to fall apart also. I try to keep healthy frozen meals in the freezer that can be warmed up and eaten without thawing when times get rough. I had a friend who would regularly spend a few hours on the weekend just making homemade pizzas with healthy toppings that she would then freeze for easy use on busy weekday nights. A bit of planning can help to prevent unhealthy binges and an over-reliance on take-out menus. And even when your store of healthy meals is depleted and you end up at the pizza counter anyway, try to cut yourself a break. Dietary changes can be hard, and punishing yourself every time you miss your goal will only make it that much harder to try again.
The beginning of a new year is a very hopeful time. We should take advantage of that natural feeling of optimism and renewal without putting so much pressure on ourselves that it makes us fearful to try again. Although we might naturally feel motivated to make healthy changes in January, we should also remember that January 1st is really just an arbitrary date on the calendar. We can make a pledge to improve our health at any time of the year. As Canadian author Lucy Maude Montgomery said, “Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it”. We can make a pledge that for every tomorrow, we will put in our best effort. That’s all we can really ask of ourselves.
About the author
: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000. She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.