Good information in THIS NY Times Health section article on why its harder to lose weight when you are older.
I am always fascinated by the elegant way in which Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda describe, in their own terms, what Western Science describes in its terms and view, which is, “through the microscope.
Chinese medicine says clearly that at 6×6 (Chinese culture loves conceptualizing various things and processes in terms of groups of numbers that imply a secondary concept….here, that our grow occurs in groups of 6 years), another words, at age 36, our need for food declines, as our Pi Hun Hua weakens.
Classical Chinese Medicine describes metabolism in terms of the “Pi Hun Hua”–the transformation of food and liquid into energy, and its distribution through the body for metabolic functions. Ayurveda describes the exact same thing, in terms of Agni–or digestive and metabolic fire. Hun Hua is also a kind of fire, synonymous with metabolic fire and general health.
Everything science describes here is generalized loss of fire. Life is a process of warm transformation, cooking if you will, of food, liquid, air, and experience. Experience plus the metabolic fire of the heart-mind yields wisdom. This is the medical application of the concept of Yang in medicine.
The Chinese also observed that by age 36 the fire begins to diminish, and we need less food. Fat is Yin. Cook flesh and the fat turns to liquid. That is Yin. Food is fundamentally Yin in its density and crude material nature (not like the sun). So more Yin food makes more Yin fat, at exactly the age when our Yang is weakening, and needs less Yin. So you are left with an imbalance of excessive Yin, stored energy. Not woo woo energy, but calories.
Use of Spices and Flavors to Maintain Digestive Fire as We Age
Of course you have to eat less. But, as we get older and our digestive fire weakens, we also have to keep the fire stoked and alive. This may mean a judicious use of Sour, Pungent, Bitter, and Sweet digestive herbs, both as bitters, and digestive candies like the famous Chinese Haw Flakes that are also given to little kids who are prone to gut issues from a digestive tract that is weak for being immature, and also in the food itself.
I will never forget a job I had as a cook in a convalescent home when I was only 18. I was already in love with spices at that time. There was a man living there whose food all had to be pureed. He could not speak or swallow, but was only around 60. I had to puree his green peas, and without any deep thought about making it taste better, added some garlic powder and a tiny bit of black pepper. He was so happy he came round the kitchen and wrote me a thank you note. An unremittingly bland diet is one of the best ways to weaken your digestive fire, and the judicious use of age appropriate spices is a great way to stimulate your metabolic fire.
Chinese Medicine and Western Science: Different Ways of Seeing and Describing
This difference between how Chinese Medicine and Western Science are describing why its harder to lose weight when your older is a good example of how Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, and Western Science describe the very same reality using unique ways of seeing that are reflected and even determined by different use of language.
There is only one kind of medicine, and that is Medicine. Medicine is anything that heals you.
Western Science excels at seeing things at the microscopic level. It has strived, to a degree since Aristotle, but all the more so since the advent of the microscope and dissection, to describe exactly which tissues and biochemicals are involved in each limited and specific interaction. Western science describes for example, that when the sympathetic nervous system is activated, a specific series of biological responses will occur–blood pressure goes up, pupils constrict, blood is shunted from the gut to the muscles, the better to fight with. This is exactly what happens with the stress response (fight or flight), as first described by American Physiologist Walter Cannon, in the 1930’s.
Chinese Medicine, on the other hand, describes the results of things with images. It uses inductive reasoning as well as deductive. Chinese medicine says that “anger makes the Qi rise.” The Chinese medical researchers of antiquity noticed that when experiencing the kind of stress that results in the fight aspect of the fight or flight response, that the sympathetic nervous system mobilizes those resources needed to get up and fight. The proverbial macho, whose face turns red, gets up out of his seat, puffs up his chest, and yells, “you talking to me?” with his shoulders back ready to fight, is, like the dog whose neck hair stands on end as it growls and bares its teeth, is experiencing his or her Qi rising to the upper body in order to fight. We call this dramatic example Liver Fire, because it involves lots of violent heat jumping to the top of the building. This is what rage is. Loss of control, like a fire.
On the other hand, those of us who are not macho, especially folk who go to the other extreme, and lack assertiveness, may end up repressing their anger, and simply developing Liver Depression Qi Stagnation, in which the frustration of work, home, or life, leads to chronic tight shoulder, neck, scalp, and jaw muscles, irritability, tension headache, and Pre-menstrual dysphoria.