Why I can’t eat cold stuff

When I first moved to the Netherlands over a decade ago, I was learning Dutch via a textbook. One passage in particular, about food, stuck out. A Dutchy was telling an expat about local cuisine: ‘For lunch we eat a sandwich and for dinner we eat something warm.’ Over the years I’ve heard some rather hilarious anecdotes about this whole idea of ‘eating warm’. My boyfriend was once accosted in the office lunchroom while removing his reheated leftovers from the microwave. ‘You eat warm for lunch?’ he was asked. ‘Surely that means you don’t eat warm for dinner, too? Eating warm twice a day is very unhealthy.’

I honestly don’t know where this whole idea came from – although I’m now intrigued to find out – but I do know the advice I’ve just received from the Chinese Medic treating my hormone imbalance and ensuing cycle-related pain: ‘Don’t eat cold.’

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) attributes my pain to stagnant qi (or chi), which translates to ‘life force’ or ‘vital energy’. And what does cold do? It contracts things, slowing them down. In Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom by Christiane Northrup, M.D., the author talks to Sandra Chiu, a licensed acupuncturist and TCM practitioner. Here’s what she has to say on the topic:

‘During a women’s period, her body is focused on discharging “old blood,” the endometrial lining that has built up and then must be shed in the absence of pregnancy. To the Chinese, it is important that this flow and discharge of blood be smooth and unimpeded. This will result in a healthy period, absent of pain and discomfort, emotional irritability, and distress. Additionally, when the menstrual blood is discharged in this healthy and “flow-ful” manner, it paves the way for the important next step in a woman’s cycle – the creation of healthy new blood, the rebuilding of the endometrial lining. If menstrual bleeding is problematic, this has a negative effect on the body’s ability to restore new blood and on the following stages of a woman’s cycle.”

Just like my TCM specialist, Chiu recommends ‘avoiding cold foods, sitting or lying in cold places, swimming (because water is usually much cooler than the body’s temperature), and exposure to cold and damp weather’ during periods. ‘Today, this would include avoiding [clothing that leaves] the belly exposed, bare feet on cold tile, and cold foods such as ice cream, frozen smoothies, iced water, and even raw foods (considered cold in nature) while menstruating.’

Considering that my first month on the protocol coincided with the hottest July days Amsterdam has ever seen – we’re talking almost 40C here – avoiding consuming anything from the fridge felt particularly challenging. But together with acupuncture and sipping on special (not-so-tasty) circulation-promoting tea, it’s led to results within the first month. For the first time in a long time I could get through my period without painkillers. I’m not saying it was all smooth sailing, but there was a clear and oh-so-welcome improvement. Let’s hope that was only the warm up (see what I did there?) and that the best is yet to come.

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