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Macrobiotics and You…a Simple Guide to Balance
By Christina Pirello

I have been practicing macrobiotics for 22 years now…'practice' being the key word. My own experience has shown me that macrobiotic living is a sensuous dance we do with nature, in an attempt to find that ever-illusive state…balance.

Many of us, me included, came to the practice of macrobiotics as a result of a life-threatening illness. Within that philosophy, the way we chose to eat and live to regain health was quite monastic and restrictive, in an attempt to cleanse the body and recreate our vitality.

This extreme dietary approach can work quite well, especially if practiced for a short period of time, 2-3 months. The body has a chance to cleanse and rejuvenate; our blood quality changes; our organs begin to function normally again; we can become the people that Mother Nature intended us to be. And…if we choose it, we can heal our bodies and recover from illness.

I have noticed in my years in the macrobiotic community, however, that there are certain quirks that have simply gained acceptance and are considered to be a part of the 'culture.' I have always questioned them. What are they? Binge eating and wild cravings.

Now certainly, at the start of your practice, your body is somewhat shocked (depending on how dramatically you alter your food choices) and cravings can be expected as the body readjusts to new food. The body likes routine and habit and upsetting that apple cart, even in a positive way, can create cravings for the foods you have chosen to eliminate from your diet. With a little creativity, you can cook to tame such cravings as your body heals.

Once you have adjusted, however, binge eating and cravings should really play a much smaller role in your days. Sure, we all have those times when we overdo a bit, but, on the whole, eating well will leave you sated and contented most of the time, with cravings and binge eating playing a role at the occasional party rather than in your daily life.

So how did binge eating and cravings become such alarge and accepted part of the macrobiotic culture?

Simply put…it is a lack of understanding of the food we choose to eat. Macrobiotic eating is a beautifully balanced symphony of unprocessed, seasonal foods, prepared in a manner appropriate to your condition and lifestyle…period. If the food we eat is chosen from the wide array of choices Mother Nature provides and prepared deliciously, cravings and binge eating play a minor role in your life, rather than serve as the guiding factors in the choices you make.

It all begins with a change in thinking.
If you fall into the trap of trying to substitute a healthier food for one that is less appropriate for your condition, you set yourself up for a life of binges and cravings, in my opinion. In order to successfully transition to whole foods and balanced eating, we need to see food in a new light.

So what causes cravings anyway?

Our bodies, like Mother Nature herself, will have balance and cravings are our bodies' way of telling us that they are missing something, wanting something, to make them feel balanced. The more extreme our food choices, the more extreme the cravings will be. As we change, if we are eating a wide and varied diet with proper amounts of carbohydrates, fats, proteins and trace minerals, cravings will come and go with little fanfare.

Many people come from a history of meat consumption and miss that density of texture when they are transitioning to a plant-based way of eating. Bread becomes the substitute for that dense, satisfying piece of something to 'sink your teeth into.' And while whole grain breads are deeply satisfying and delicious and not detrimental to health, if you are trying to change your body, bread, if over-eaten, can keep you stuck where you are in your condition as can soy cheeses and soy yogurts and other processed 'healthy' versions of animal foods.

Instead, try some fried tempeh or tofu or very spicy beans with salsa to tame these cravings, with bread on occasion.

Many people enjoy a diet laden with salty snacks and simple refined sugars. Cravings for these foods can send you wild, but the good news is they are easily tamed. Sensible use of good quality salts and grain sweeteners can keep these strong cravings at bay while your body adjusts.

And that is just at the beginning of your practice.

As the years pass, we can fall into the rut of cooking the same dishes over and over, with little variety and excitement. Or we fall into the category of trying to maintain too monastic a diet for too long. Cravings can tell us a lot in these cases. Are salty chips, shoyu and sea veggies becoming food groups instead of little additions to your daily fare? Take a look at your daily diet…you may be consuming too much grain, too little salt and too much soft food. Your palate craves some crunch for stimulation and your blood craves minerals.

Are you rummaging through the kitchen for a jar of nut butter at midnight and then eating it by the spoonful? Take a look at your fat and protein intake, based on your condition and lifestyle. Simply sautéing with more frequency or eating more beans, nuts and tofu can satisfy your body's primal need for fat and keep you well-nourished while eating less. Remember that the large majority of our nutrients are fat-soluble, meaning that they need fat as the vehicle to transport them to your cells as fuel.

Are sweets your downfall? A tough one…but be honest with yourself…did you ever really give up simple sugar; get it out of your system. If so, then take a look at your salt intake, how much you pressure cook and long cook dishes. Sugar and sweet taste help us to feel relaxed. If your diet is heavy, salty and restrictive, you will have apple pies chasing you down the street in your dreams. Simply lightening up your diet, adding some raw foods and including some good quality sweet taste should do the trick.

And then there's tofu. At first, many of us think it's a bad joke. We hate the texture; it has no flavor and it's boring. But after some years of long cooking, contracted, salty foods, too much grain and not enough light cooking, tofu seems like manna from heaven, especially for men. With its cool and relaxing nature, it can feel like the perfect way to relax tension. Take care with tofu, boys. You don't want to cool down and relax too much.

In short, macrobiotic living is a simply beautiful choice, if practiced in a way that serves you in your life…not in some counselor's notes or a philosophy book. Life is not theory; it's practice. So eat…make choices…see how you feel and adjust accordingly. After all, the only expert on you and what you need is…you.

Order your copy of Christina Pirello's book
Glow:A Prescription for Radiant Health and Beauty

Christina Pirello is the inspiring Emmy Award winning host of the television series, "Christina Cooks," airing on over 135 public television stations nationwide, 50 countries internationally, through the Discovery Health Network, and on Comcast's CN8 Network. Christina is the author of three best-selling books: Cooking the Whole Foods Way; Cook Your Way to the Life You Want; and GLOW, A Prescription to Radiant Health and Beauty.

At age 26, Christina was diagnosed with terminal leukemia, and deciding to forgo conventional medical therapies she turned to macrobiotics and cured herself. Today Christina teaches whole foods cooking classes and conducts lifestyle seminars and lectures nationwide on the power of food in our lives, in a variety of settings - from natural food stores to corporate boardrooms to Network TV.
No lives are left unchanged when she leaves the room.

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