The Five Elements and Seasonal Eating
If we step back and take in the big picture on nutrition, food and our relationship to eating, the human body looks like a miniature version of the universe— everything happening in the external world is also happening within us.
For instance, the qualities and changes in the seasons are reflected in our inner workings. Just as the weather can be hot or cold, cloudy or clear, damp or dry, so can our inner environment. We’ve all experienced our internal thermostat running hot or having trouble shaking the chills. Our minds and thought processes are clear and focused one day, cloudy and incoherent the next. Our skin and even our respiratory tract can feel moist or dry.
Traditional Chinese Medicine addresses these realities with the Five Elements Theory, which describes the changes continuously occurring within our bodies and correlates those changes
with the seasons. The theory can guide us toward dietary choices that align us with nature, provide a platform for healing and enhance our overall well-being.
Embracing the Five Elements
The Five Elements Theory illustrates the patterns of change in life (Reichstein 1998) demonstrated through five elements— wood, fire, earth, metal and water—that create, influence and nourish one another. An intricate balance among these elements allows patterns of life to flow gracefully.
By supporting and inhibiting one another, the elements stay in balance. For example, water irrigates the land so wood can grow, which then feeds fire. Fire melts metal to mold it, and metal cuts through wood.
The elements also correlate to stages in life, specific organs, emotions, colors, times of day, weather and the cycles of the seasons. The cycles of the seasons bring about growth, change and decay, which influence our own inner processes, both biological and psychological. The closer we align ourselves to the present season, the healthier we will be.
If we observe a tree through the seasons, we witness the continuity of life. In spring, when energy draws upward, the tree starts budding and blooms into full foliage; in summer, it bears fruit. As autumn arrives, leaves and fruit begin to fall as the tree’s energy returns to its roots for winter.
Humans also experience a cycle of growth and renewal every year. Fortunately for us, Mother Earth provides the foods our bodies naturally need during each season of the year. The five elements and their interplay with the seasons illustrate how this works, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine.
For more information about the benefits of seasonal eating, plus a much wider discussion of the topic, please see “Eating With the Seasons” in the online IDEA Library or in the January 2015 print issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.
Reichstein, G. 1998. Wood Becomes Water: Chinese Medicine in Everyday Life. New York: Kodansha.
TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) World Foundation. 2014. Accessed Oct. 14, 2014. www.tcmworld.org.