Thursday, April 28, 2011

My Personal Diet

I occasionally get asked what my day to day diet is like. I did some postings of various meals that I made for myself on another blog, but felt it would be good to also do it here, using the comments section to add some of my meals as I make them for a while, and to include recipes when possible.

Having stated this intention, I would like to share a few disclaimers. One is that I am definitely an explorer who is very much in a learning process about the role of diet in the spiritual life. My opinions are going to change from time to time, probably not drastically, but it a way that shows some fine tuning and evolution in understanding.

I started out with the usual American diet, with lots of steak, potatoes, and some overboiled veggies on the side, occasional Chinese stir fried dishes, some Mexican food (or the American re-styling of this genre ala fast food), and occasionally some burgers and fries. Some salads would figure into the equation, but it was mostly an optional garnish and was not taken as a serious source of nutrition. There were some soups every now and then, too, with ever increasing amounts of MSG (monosodium glutamate) that no one really knew was frying the brains of people and causing a number of mental illnesses, later to be classified as an "excito-toxin", increasing the speed that electrons crossed the synaptic gaps.

During that time I had severe allergies, especially to grass pollen and cat dander. The general feeling about allergies was that it was something you had or not had, that it was genetic or inherited, and that you could not do much besides take allergy pills. I just mainly lived with it. I got periodic sinus headaches with them and took aspirin, and spent one night in particular struggling to breathe each breath, not knowing whether I was going to live out the night and see the next morning. I got into a concentration about breathing then and was, after a long time, about to resume normal breathing and fall peacefully asleep.

In college, I decided to become vegetarian. It was not for dietary reasons, but for compassion for animals. The inspiration came from my studies, in a college class called "History of American Theology". I had chosen to study the Quakers and John Woolman in particular, and wrote an essay about his walkabout across the US at that time when he was alive. I decided to meditate Quaker style and found, like Woolman, a prompting from within to become vegetarian. Every time I thought of becoming vegetarian, a gentle joy waves through me. After a month of these wavings through, I surrendered to the impulse and made it into a decision. I was taking "Ethics" in philosophy that year also and going into the various ethical issues that are still hot topics in the world. My professor and later friend was not quite vegetarian himself, but had leanings in this direction and was reducing his intake. I went cold turkey and failed miserably. My body did not react well to the change. After only 3 days, I ate a steak and felt a little defeated in my purpose.

But life has a way of helping us out, a pastor gave me a copy of RECIPES FOR A SMALL PLANET, and I was able to make decent and tasty vegetarian meals for myself. I was still lacto-ovo vegetarian, since I was mainly into not killing animals for food. I transitioned in smaller stages for six months, first not buying any dead cow meat or chicken meat a month, then not eating any at restuarants the next month, and then not eating at friend's houses the next month, and then doing the same thing for fish for the next three months. This more gradual transition worked.

About two years into being vegetarian, I noticed that my allergies had weakened considerably and some people even remarked that I had a glow of health, something that in my previous days as a carnivore never happened. About four more years later, I dropped eggs. Or actually my body decided it did not like eggs anymore and spontaneously threw them up. Perhaps it was a bad egg, but I got that it was a signal that my body was changing and did not want eggs anymore. This rang true in the next two years.

I was reducing my dairy fairly rapidly after this and was near vegan, having only the casein in soy cheese and some yogurt as my only two dairy sources, with some occasional "sneak ins" of Parmesan cheese in some tomato sauces when I would go to an Italian restuarant and the chef did not get the request right. It was not that they would deliberately put in cheese, but that sometimes it was already sprinkled in while making the sauces and then forgotten. This phase ended when I was in deep retreat up on the coast of Oregon and realized that I had accidentally crossed the line into being completely vegan, so I decided to stay that way. I found that my allergies reduced to almost zero from this and from some emotional processing that I found in a Reiki book that I was reading. My eyes still itch and sometimes get red during the peak of hayfever season, and sometimes I occasionally sneeze. When I was a carnivore, I would go through boxes of allergy pills. When I was lacto-ovo vegetarian, I would only use about 10 tablets a year. When I was vegan, it might be one tab. After having gone through a year and quarter eating raw food only, it is down to zero tablets. I am not into raw food only now, because I feel that legumes are better cooked for me and my body likes a little occasional rice. But I do recommend that people try about 3 to 5 months raw food diet (at the right time) just for the cleansing it does. When you feel strong protein cravings, it is a signal that the cleansing time is complete. I interviewed a lot of raw foodists and found that they hit a specific protein craving at roughly the 3 to 5 month zone. They usually, at that time, ate too many almonds and got sick.

I did learn not to overcook food after my raw food phase. I take more care to preserve the enzymes that are usually lost in cooking and also keep a certain percentage of raw food and raw smoothies in my diet. It is somewhere between 50 percent and 70 percent, more raw in the summer, and less in the winter. I love raw pea soup and regular cooked soups. It seems that having that much water in the food is helpful to digestion.

In the biography of Milarepa, the great yogi saint mentions getting lots of energy from having had nettles soup mixed with a little barley flour. It surged through his system and helped more kundalini energy through him. He had gotten the barley four as a gift from a hunter who thought his diet was weak in some carbs (he did not quite put it that way). Apparently his body was muscle glycogen starved and surged back into life after getting some. Milarepa did not forget this dramatic shift and made a note to himself that diet was an important factor on the spiritual path. I liked how Milarepa did maintain the attitude of a scientist and kept learning from his own experience. His conclusion rang true to me.

My first experiences with herbal medicine was through two events. One was getting some Celestial Seasonings Sleepy Time Tea and feeling it literally knock me out. A friend of mine in college gave the tea but warned me that it might make my already tired body want to sleep even more. I remember saying that something about that it was only a bunch of herbs and would probably be too mild to do that. I was wrong. The other event was my getting very sick in graduate school and had to not go to classes for two weeks. I was in a fever, trying to wait out the illness, and was not getting any better. After two weeks, a friend dropped by and asked if I wanted to go out from some Chinese food. I figured that I could be sick anywhere and that at least I could get some food. I was not particularly hungry, but my friend was willing to split a stir fry with me and that was enough. The waitress was a friend of mine, who apparently noticed that I was coming more to life when I drank some of their Oolong tea and kept filling the pot. I drank 50 cups and was feeling better and better. I went to sleep well that night and woke up feeling so well that it seemed as if I was never sick. Going from a fever that never left to a wellness with no linger signs of illness in about 10 hours felt like a miracle. I explain it better now. I was getting hydrated. I was getting a caffeine boost that jump started my immune system. I was getting a ton of antioxidants. And I was getting natural antibiotics from the fermented products inside the Oolong tea. Oolong, unlike the regular green tea that it is made from, it fermented. The bacteria that cause fermentation always secrete their own antibiotics to take over their space and claim it. In the process they often transform a lot of the acids into medicinal compounds. Then there is theanine to jump start the dopamine and polyphenols that clear up "brain rust". But like Milarepa's experience, I did not forget my entry into the world of herbs and diet for healing.

Since then I have been experimenting more and more with herbs and especially herbal teas for healing, and even herbal teas for nutrition. I find that it only takes a little tweak to prepare cooked food as if it were a herbal preparation, adding spices, not for flavor only, but for medicinal considerations. It is no accident that many old style Chinese cooks will saute onions, garlic, turmeric, and ginger in oil as a preparation for a stir fry. The antioxidants in ginger and turmeric help the oil to not degrade (low heat helps too, when stir frying only veggies, you do not need as much heat as you would with animal flesh). All the spices are really medicinal herbs. There is a Chinese saying that goes, "Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food" that summarizes this kind of consciousness.

I also do read a lot of western medical stuff on diet. Our biochemical and physiological understanding has grown a lot. But the approach lacks the order of Aryurvedic and Tibetan healing knowledge. As a result, the medical data does not form a unified whole in the minds of people and is less of a guide for people. When you grok the Aryurvedic system, then the data falls into place more readily and supports the aims of the old rishis. I had to learn the harder path of trying out a lot of diets that were based on partial knowledge, like the Pritikin diet, the Macrobiotic diet, the high protein diet, and the gluten free diet. Most of their knowledge did get integrated into a larger picture. I learned something valuable from each of them, but some, like the high protein and the Pritikin were too unbalanced for the long term. It seems that balance and proportion are valuable keys to right diet. What goes against this is "addictive craving" which only cares to eat "comfort food" and "pleasure food". While food is meant to be pleasurable and comforting to eat, it needs to be primarily nutritional and medicinal. If this focus is not maintained, then one will never eat in balance. One will eat too much and not enough of the right things, and this indulgent way of eating does kill people or at least stresses people, ages them, and hurts them. Our diet is meant to be a support for our lives and not an adverse factor we are supposed to survive.


  1. The Farmer's Market is happening again. The early harvest is Kale which has a very long growing season in Oregon. I often get gifts of Kale from the gardens of friends. My favorite way of preparing it is a "single veggie stir fry" where I saute Kale with a little onion, garlic, and lemon juice, and then add some Tamari (gluten free organic) soy sauce at the end. I sometimes add a little turmeric too. This is usually in powdered form. I had a squirt bottle of pure filtered water once the onions and garlic are "coated with oil" and have become slightly transparent. Turmeric is added so that it mixes in with this water. Not too much Turmeric, as its flavor can overpower the others. The lemon juice seems to soften some of the toughness of Kale. I sometimes do a quick stir fry using onion powder and garlic powder (with the same kind of water mixing). The lemon juice is just enough to produce a slight tang and no more. The heat will surge a "green effect" where the color of the leaves will seem to change. Most greens will brighten slightly. Kale seems to get a little darker instead, like Spinach. This color shift signals that the Kale is ready. I used to chop away the tough stalk and strip the tough Kale spine from the leaves. But now I find I just chop the spine cross wise into thin enough strips so that the cooking can soften it. I will throw away the stalk part that is further from the leafy part. I chop the onions as fine as possible and prefer sliced garlic to crushed. Garlic is put into the oil last so it does not brown. The body seems to like a mono-meal of one veggie (plus supportive spices) and finds it easy to digest. Cooked this way, it still has a slight raw food quality and still has some enzymes. The key is to not overcook. It is also called a "water stir fry" because the water is added before the oil gets heat compromised. The water also regulates the temperature and creates a wonderful and drinkable broth. It is like a thin tasty gravy.

  2. This morning I had a Pu-Erh tea (1 tablespoon plus 4 cups of water) with Cardamom (1/2 tablespoon), Cinnamon (1/2 tablespoon), and Steva (a few drops). I drank two cups and could feel the "chi effect" (energy moving through the body) and a subtle moving the digestive process (triple warmer) resulting with the sinuses feeling clearer. My sinuses were not really congested, but there is usually a slight restriction that I notice being released when a tea "hits the mark" and does something positive inside. I like to start with a medicinal and cleansing tea in the morning, because of an old teaching I got from a book that I read in college. The book was from one of the first metaphysical Christian authors that I found. I borrowed it from the university library. If I remember right, the title was THE SEVEN CLEANSINGS and the author was Glenn Clark. The theme of the book was that the spiritual life was mainly about cleansing and purification of each of the bodies, the physical body, the emotional body, the mental body, and the soul body. Some of the bodies had more than one purification to make the number add up to seven. He recommended getting up in the morning and drinking pure water with a few drops of lemon juice and not eating any food until the water moved through your whole system and was urinated out. His understanding was that you have been naturally fasting throughout the whole night and you want to help your body finish its nightly cleansing process by giving it some water to move the toxins (metabolic wastes) into, rather than clog the body with more food to process.

    From observing my body and its inner states, I do find that when I have not followed his simple protocol that I have regretted it. The body likes the help and gets used to looking forward to this help, and even prepares toxins to be eliminated, in anticipation of our help. I have since "upgraded" his process from "pure water with lemon juice drops" to "herbal cleansing teas". I have also have made a Kombucha vinegar herbal tincture (not hard to do) involves adding Hibiscus, Ginger, and Cardamom into some Kombucha vinegar (made the same way as regular Kombucha, but left to ferment longer, like the difference between wine and vinegar). I have been using Kombucha vinegar more often than Kombucha, because it is nearly completely sugar free (which some friends need). You also only need a few drops of the tincture to flavor a water (and then I add a few drops of Stevia). It makes an excellent cleanser. The herbs mentioned are simply shaken for a few days about three times a day and transfer their potencies well this way (one tablespoon each to 8 oz of Kombucha vinegar, undiluted, since you then use only a few drops in water later on, a "vinegrade" instead of lemonade).

  3. I am eating my first Nettles sauté right now. I have made Nettles tea and added Nettles to tea mixes, but have not ever used it as a food. I heard that you can do this and am now trying it out. I sautéed it in olive oil, garlic, onions, ginger, turmeric, pure water (in squirts to keep the process from drying) and lemon juice, and later added coconut milk to the broth to make a light sauce. It reminds me of New Zealand Spinach in flavor and texture. All made in a stainless steel wok with a copper bottom (though the copper is pretty worn out now).

    I am following this with a "Kapha Tea" developed by Patti Garland which has ginger, dill seed, fenugreek, and clove (with some Stevia added as a sweetener).

  4. The aftereffect of the Nettles was good. It seems to have several ingredients that nourish the brain and some good chlorophyll (oxygen transport to brain one of the positives).

    Made a morning tea of Numi Brand Pu-Erh tea and Triple Leaf Detox. I usually do not use bag teas. I prefer to alchemically mix my own blends from loose tea. But the Asian market here is out of stock on the loose Pu-Erh and have not yet ordered any loose Pu-Erh online. The Numi brand seems good, though, as a stop gap measure, while the Triple Leaf Detox tea seems to work and has a lot of good herbs (Red Clover, Burdock, Astragalus, Ginger, Foti, Mint, Kudzu, Plantain, Lysimachia, Cinnamon, Isatis, Solomon's Seal, Licorice, Duckweed, Schisandra, Tokyo Violet, Dandelion, Honeysuckle, Citrus, and Lemon). As I am writing down the herbs, I am noticing how many of them I have in both my reserves and in my yard.

    I added a few drops of Clove and Cardamom oil to the tea, and sweetened it with Stevia.

  5. Just as an FYI, if you are going to take essential oils internally you need to have a pure source. Some essential oils are chemically extracted and there are residues of the solvent that is used. There is also a chance of what I call "exotic compounds" where the solvent might combine with the plant ingredients to produce new chemicals with possible unknown side effects. In order to avoid getting lawsuits, nearly all essential oil companies will not recommend any essential oil be used internally. This is partly because you need to know what you are doing and it is easy to overdose on an essential oil even when internal use is possible. If you experiment with essential oils in teas like I do, it will need to be at your responsibility and at your risk. I am reporting my experiments and not recommending that people copy me.

    Having said this, I am obviously still alive and do feel that my experiments have done me some good. The brand of essential oil that I take passes two tests for purity (but is not indicated for internal use). Clove oil has been used internally, for instance, for mouth pains. The other oils have been used in teas and chais before: Cinnamon oil, Cardamom oil, Bergamot Oil, Lemon Grass oil, Anise oil, and Mint oil. So I feel fairly safe in doing this, but not 100 percent certain.

    One further note: When I said I added a few drops in one of the previous posts, it was to the pot, not to the cup. There is less than a drop of essential oil to the cup.

  6. I found a source for Pu-Erh tea on Amazon and decided to give it a chance. The Asian Market here has been having some ordering problems and may not be able to restock it. The item on Amazon is less expensive and may be a good long term resource. Until then I am using the Numi brand. I brewed some of their Emperor Pu-Erh tea (the only one on the shelf that was not a blend with other herbs), two bags to six cups, with the addition of cinnamon, licorice, cardamom, and black seed, sweetened with stevia. As mentioned before, I can feel a "chi effect" from the tea, but am also noticing that it is helping me normalize my weight, gently and easily. In a few weeks I am 25 percent toward my ideal weight. It seems to be helping me with my "set point" where whether I ate a lot or a little my weight would only vary one or two pounds at the most. I think it is helping a subtle digestive process work more efficiently.

  7. The Pu-Erh tea from Amazon does work. It seems like it is less aged, but still has undergone the same basic fermentation process and has similar medicinal properties. The Asian market around here has been having trouble re-ordering its inventory.

    I made some millet today. I added about 1 cup to 4 cups of boiling water, boiled it for about 5 minutes, and left it to simmer for about 15 minutes. I then added some raw salsa and some olive oil for flavor. I found a small bowl was very filling. I also had two very small tacos with some refried beans and raw salsa. Each one had only about three tablespoons of beans inside. I then completed the meal with some Kombucha Vinegar, Hibiscus, and Cardamom tea flavored with a few drops of Stevia extract.

    I am feeling that the Tibetan Aryurvedic principle of 3/4ths full feels right. The idea is to have the food balance the four elements. One fourth is air, which also means that we do some pranic breathing. One fourth is fire, which means carbohydrates. One fourth is water. And one fourth is earth, which I take to be the building blocks like proteins and minerals.

    I am finding that I need to focus on hydrating. This is especially true in the morning, since we actually shrink about 1/4 of an inch due to dehydration. We should really drink fluids in the morning before eating anything. Some cleansing brew seems very ideal, and then wait for it to move through the system before eating anything solid.

  8. I started today with a hot bath and rebirthing breathing. I usually do a more advanced meditation involving visualizing bindus and mentally chanting or whisper chanting certain seed mantras later on. But in the morning and before sleep I like to just do deep and full inhaling, soft and smooth exhaling, and with the inhale and exhale flowing together with no pauses. I keep the breathing rhythmic and spend some time watching how my belly and rib cage expand and relax so that they are using their fullest capacity without strain. I then pay attention to the sensations in the body and trust the breathing to relax any tensions found there. I let myself be sensitive to any emotions that wish to surface from these tensions and lovingly accept myself for having them and let them find their own way to peace. I find that honestly admitting how I feel allows me to process them more deeply, so that fear leads to wisdom, anger to self empowerment, and sadness leads to greater compassion. This kind of breathing is part of my diet in the sense that if I do not embrace my emotions this way that there might be a temptation to stuff the emotions deeper into the body tissues by eating food. We can, instead, be nourished by our emotions, with love and prana being the enzymes that break them down into something we can digest and process.

    I am still enjoying drinking Pu-Erh tea first thing in the morning, before any food. My batch for this morning has Cardamom, Cinnamon, Clove, Fenugreek, Dill Seed, and Gymnostemna added. I also added Oil of Bergamot, Anise Oil, and Lemon Oil. I sweetened the tea with Stevia and then added a special homemade Kombucha, Hibiscus, and Cardamon tincture (just a few drops) to give it a slight fruity flavor. I use only a few drops of the essential oils and brewed a pot of tea that holds about 8 cups. As some might notice, this Pu-Erh has the Kapha Tea added to it, minus the Ginger and plus Cardamom (which is of the Ginger family but a "cooler" digestive herb, suitable for people with a Pitta imbalance who have to balance their internal fire more precisely).