Congestion, gestion, what’s your suggestion?

It’s back-to-school time. In our house we’re simultaneously winding down from late summer travels as we transition into the new school year. Just this past weekend my son, Gilbert, and I returned from a week-long trip to San Francisco. We were on an urban hiking tour of the city ~ climbing the hills to Haight/Ashbury, winding our way through Golden Gate Park, exploring the busy streets of the Mission, and trekking up 24th Street into Noe Valley, where Gilbert was born.

We also had a mission of our own: hunting down all the best restaurants.

When I say “best”, I mean best for our particular dietary restrictions and our high standards of yumminess. (I chronicled our daily food journal on the Replenish PDX Facebook page.)

Though we were making sound choices, picking restaurants and/or dishes that were gluten-free, dairy-free and avoiding foods we don’t usually eat, by the end of the week we were both feeling a little, well. . . off.

I noticed it first in myself. There it was, a little puffiness around my eyes. Then, while waiting to ride the trolly, Gilbert made a snide remark. I thought it was either a glimpse of some premature pre-teen-attitude or that something was amiss. I responded to his back talk with a sideways look of reproach and that’s when he identified it: I can’t help it mama. I’m feeling off.

By the very last day of our trip I noticed we were both slightly more off. I was congested. He was sniffling and sneezing. We were both blowing our noses, slightly snotty, and not just in attitude.

So was it the San Francisco summer chill?
Or was our congestion suggesting something about our digestion?

In Chinese medicine there’s an obvious connection between congestion and digestion.Congestion is, in fact, a pointed sign of indigestion. In the acupuncturist Efrem Korngold’s bookBetween Heaven and Earth, he explains how a food that can do one body good can do another harm. “Someone who is congested and agitated”, he says, “needs to avoid sticky and rich foods (dairy products, fats and casseroles).”

Though Gilbert and I were not eating any dairy or casseroles, and though I’m not a practitioner trained in Chinese healing, my hypothesis of our dual congestion was in keeping with this suggestion. I’m a big fan of good fat. I teach a whole Homestudy Course on it called Fat or Fiction. Yet the amount of improperly used and oxidized oils in our restaurant excursions was a likely culprit of the congestion.

Ultimately, the offending factor is less important to me in this instance than the sign, the suggestion. What I want to celebrate after our travels is that both Gilbert and I were able to identify feeling off. We were both able to tell that something we were eating, perhaps a cumulative something, was not doing our bodies good.

When we address a symptom, are we then masking the actual problem? Is that symptom a subtle suggestion of something else that needs attention, as with congestion being a sign of taxed digestion?

This month I’ll be launching a campaign where I aim to dig a little deeper, look a little further, listen more intently and own the messages that my physiology, psychology, behavior and innate constitution are telling me. Its a campaign of self-awareness that I’m calling Functional Enlightenment. (Lofty, I know!) Each step of the way I’ll be inviting you to walk more fully into an understanding of your own body’s suggestions and wisdom. In order to know when you’re off,you get to know what it feels like to be ON.

Stay tuned for opportunities of self-discovery!

Eater’s Digest Homework:

Heeding your congestion’s suggestion.

In keeping with the Traditional Chinese theories, congestion could be suggesting compromised or strained digestion. Whether you can adopt that perspective or not, there are certain natural remedies that will help to ease the nasal jam. Remember it may take time. Congestion is, by nature, a bottleneck of activity.

Three Simple Steps to Help Unblock Congestion:

  1. Eat whole foods that are cooked, warmed or blended.
    Cooking, warming and blending all help to pre-digest your food. This makes the food less taxing on your digestive system, and hastens the clearing of the nasal passages.
  2. Drink lots of water.
    Water helps your body disengage congested fluids, phlegm and toxins.
  3. Consume foods high in natural sodium.
    Natural sodium helps to prevent water from getting into the cells. Water in the cells can result in a stuffy nose, watery eyes and swollen tissues. Foods high in natural sodium include celery, carrots, beets, zucchini and seaweed.


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