Among the various patterns of imbalance defined in Chinese medicine, “food stagnation” is one of the most common in the United States. Food stagnation refers to the stoppage or “stagnation” of undigested food and energy in the stomach. And this, of course, is the direct result of poor dietary choices.
Signs and symptoms associated with food stagnation include epigastric pain, abdominal fullness, bloating, acid reflux, stomach cramps, poor digestion, constipation, difficulty breathing, poor distribution of nutrients and more.
Food stagnation is caused when the stomach is filled to or past its capacity. That is, when a large meal is eaten or too much cold or greasy food is ingested at once time. Think of the way you feel after eating large meals during the holidays and at parties. And while this syndrome is found among adults, it is most common in children.
Children are predisposed to food stagnation from birth. Infants, for example, have an inherently weak digestive system. And filling them with processed formula or animal milk, feeding them too much too soon or moving them on to solid foods before their system is ready leads to food stagnation. Their system is unable to cope and so the food accumulates and remains static in their stomach and intestines. Vomiting, hiccups and constipation are signs that this is happening.
As children get older their diets change to sodas and fruit juices, yogurts, processed foods and greasy foods such as pizzas, burgers and chips. This type of diet leads to stagnation of food in the body, stagnation of food leads to dampness and dampness leads to phlegm. And it is phlegm-damp accumulation that leads to chronic ear infections, colds and viruses, sinus infections, constipation, fevers, colic, asthma, hyperactivity and nightmares in children.
To avoid food stagnation in children, infants should be fed breast milk for the first six months. After that, breast milk should be combined with appropriate cereals and foods until the baby reaches 12 months of age. If breast feeding is out of the question because of time or insufficient lactation, then use sheep’s milk, which is the closest animal milk to mother’s milk.
From 1 year to 18 months, rice porridge (jook) is a good alternative. Broths made from organic vegetables and meats can also be given. Steamed or boiled vegetables are good choices thereafter.
Adults are also prone to food stagnation and it is mostly self-induced by poor dietary choices. Overeating leaves one feeling bloated until the food is able to properly digest. And eating too much fried, greasy or fatty food leads not only to stagnation but also to phlegm-damp. And this leads to interior heat, allergies, chronic diarrhea or constipation, food allergies, weight gain and obesity and the inability to think clearly and make lucid decisions.
As you can see, the problem of poor diet has wider implications than just weight and energy. If you have allergies, poor memory and concentration or any of the other signs and symptoms listed here, food stagnation just might be the cause.
If it is, the best remedy is as follows:
- Eat food that is whole, fresh and diverse in type.
- Eat four to six smaller meals per day to provide sustained energy while requiring less energy for digestion.
- For at least a couple of days kick up the flavor of your food with fresh ginger, scallion, cloves, turmeric and other thermogenic spices. These help warm the body, aid digestion and normalize digestive activity.
- Walk as much as possible between meals to begin metabolizing the food you have eaten. This is easily done by parking farther away from the door, taking the stairs or enjoying a walk after or before mealtimes.
- Overall, limit or avoid foods that are fatty, greasy and fried while consuming more green leafy vegetables.
With these easy steps your digestion will normalize in a few days. And within a few days after that the signs and symptoms of food stagnation will fall away. It’s your body. Take care of it.
—Dr. Mark Wiley