The Basics of Macrobiotic Living

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Adopting the basic macrobiotic life and awareness principles may help you get in touch with a more intellectual and spiritual way of living.

A holistic approach to maintaining and improving our health invariably involves a change in diet. Whether the goal is to lose weight or manage chronic or serious illness, becoming more mindful about what goes into our bodies makes sense. Any major diet change can throw off body chemistry or create nutritional deficits if implemented incorrectly, so it’s wise to consult with your doctor.

Information, recipes and meal plans abound for increasingly mainstream diets, such as vegan and paleo, but information about the macrobiotic approach is not as ubiquitous.

The macrobiotic diet is actually more of a philosophy about food, nutrition and yin and yang energies than a diet, per se. Perhaps because it’s western heyday was in the 1970’s, many associate it with hippie culture and consider the philosophy too metaphysical to take seriously.

Whatever your view on food energies, the nutritional profile of a standard macrobiotic diet is sound and has been beneficial to many who have included it in their treatment plans.

Yin and yang energies are part of a long tradition of Eastern medicine that has been perfected through trial and error over thousands of years. Our western medicine model doesn’t give credence or coverage to age-old energy treatments such as acupuncture or reiki, but we should remember how relatively young and untested our own medicine is. It wasn’t until World War I that doctors discovered that washing their hands before surgery decreased a patient’s chance of dying from infection. When learning about something we don’t understand, it doesn’t hurt to have an open mind.

Macrobiotics examines the energetic profiles of foods and the resulting effects in our bodies, minds, and emotions.

Yang foods are considered energetically dense and contracting while yin foods are energetically light and expanding. Extremes of either are to be avoided for optimal health.

Meat is an example of extreme yang and alcohol and sugars are examples of extreme yin.

Interestingly, sweet and creamy dairy products are considered extreme yin but salty, cheesy dairy products are extreme yang.

People following macrobiotic principles are encouraged to be mindful about the physiological and emotional effects of the foods they eat and to remain within relatively neutral energetic guidelines. These guidelines encompass fruit as the most yin to high-quality fish as the most yang. In between, vegetables, beans and grains round out the diet.

When beginning to notice the energetic effects of food, it’s helpful to note that the dense, contracting yang of meat is said to create or allow angry or combative tendencies while the light, expanding energy of sugar leads to an unfocused, ungrounded, air-headed energy. Of course, these are the extremes and would ideally be avoided anyway, but they are used here for illustrative purposes.

It’s important to note that one extreme will not balance the other – a steak will not bring a gin and tonic back to neutral. It’s for this reason that macrobiotic practitioners try to remain within the neutral guidelines. Once the sludge of past extreme food consumption has cleared, it’s easier to perceive the more subtle energies of foods within these parameters and fine-tuning can begin.

Upward growing vegetables, such as leafy greens, promote positivity and creativity and root vegetables contribute to a grounded feeling.

Whole grains create a peaceful strength.

These are just the basics. There is much more to learn about the macrobiotic philosophy for those who want to give it a go.

People incorporate macrobiotic principles in varying degrees. Even those uncomfortable with a strict approach can benefit nutritionally. For those who want to be stricter in their implementation, a macrobiotic consultant is a good option since there may be a lot of questions along the way. The philosophy of macrobiotics is worth considering, if only for the benefit of mindful food consumption.


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