So in the last article we touched upon the five elements, and how everyone has one element or another that predominates their physical composition. We talked about how for us, ladies, this is a positive way to look at our bodies as opposed to negatively somatotyping ourselves as "ectomorph," "endomorph," or "mesomorph."
Yes, these terms seem harmlessly archaic, but as ladies we tend to learn the meaning of words and then associate our emotions with them, and in the cases of these words we all too frequently find ourselves consigned to viewing them as nice ways for saying "skinny," "fat," and "in the middle."
But with the five elements approach, we can each look at our bodies in a more positive manner, since each element has both its benefits and its detriments, since we all need a balance of each element, and yet we are all dominated by one element. If you haven't figured out which element dominates in you, please read the other article first. If you have, here's a refresher on how these elements interact.
Body Type Nutrition
Now, we talked about exercises before, but now it's time to talk about our FAVORITE topic, nutrition. My trainer, Kenny, told me once that getting in shape was "ten percent what you put out, and ninety percent what you put in." Now, I would argue that the ninety percent that you put in should then be subdivided into what you put in genetically and what you put in nutritionally, but the point is this: Nutrition plays a gigantic role in maximizing your physique.
That being said, remember that nutrition is like origami—depending on what primary material you've been given, you're going to be able to fold up different shapes.
If you've got thin paper, you might make a very nice, delicate swan, but your ability to create a solid "paper airplane," well, it's going to suck. Whereas someone with thicker, stronger paper is going to make a very hearty plane, but their swans will not be very dainty. You get the idea.
Anyway, the point is this: by applying your knowledge [of nutrition], you are able to create your materials into the best version of the shape that they are best designed for.
Once upon a time, I thought it would be a smart idea to take honors chemistry in college. As it turns out, you have to use algebra in chemistry, and usually without a calculator, so as you can imagine chemistry and I did not get along very well. But we did get to do some very neat experiments, one of which was the "burn the peanut experiment."
Basically, it involved setting up an elaborate "heat capturing device" that, as we burned a peanut, measured how much heat the peanut was capable of producing. This heat was measured in a unit called "calories." Oh, you've heard of them? Yes, you're right, these were the exact same "calories" as the type that are in your food, only those are capital-C "Calories," which means "1000 [little C] calories" or a "kilocalorie."
Now, we discovered that our peanut had about 5000 calories, also known as 5 Calories. Like any food you or I eat, the peanut had the potential to give off heat (also known as energy) when we burned it (used it as fuel).
In our experiment, the heat or energy given off by the peanut was collected in a jar. In your body, that heat or energy given off is either used to power your body's functions or stored in your muscle glycogen, liver glycogen, or adipose tissue, therefore making you gain weight.
Where it is stored depends on how depleted you are at the time of its intake and the natural tendencies of your metabolism. Remember that calories stored in fat may be mobilized by cardiovascular exercise to assist the oxidative pathway as enzymes, so just because something is stored in adipose tissue doesn't mean that it will be completely useless to your body.
Weight Control Through Calories
Anyway, so there's some science for you, but the point is this: the calories that you eat but do not use are stored. These stored calories can be mobilized for later use. Therefore, to lose weight, you want to intake less calories than the total amount you use (both immediately and through later mobilization), and to gain weight, you want additional calories.
Now, you're saying: but if I eat 2000 kcals of Twinkies and 2000 kcals of whole foods, obviously I am going to be much healthier on the whole foods, and I will not gain as much weight. Yes, this is true. The whole foods will have lots of fiber, protein, and other nutrients that are harder for your body to digest.
As a response, it will have to work harder to get the energy out of those foods. Which means that while you are eating them, you are burning more calories. Additionally, they have vitamins and minerals, which will make your body more effective at using calories in food, which again will cause you to burn more overall calories.
But here is where it gets tricky. Because like it or not, if you are a water person, you are never going to look like a wood person. It just is not going to happen for you. You can eat the perfect diet, not going too low on calories and not going too high, doing lots of cardio, stretching, lifting, whatever, but innately, you are still a water person.
Even if you begin to take on more wood characteristics (weight loss, getting leaner, etc.), your body will do anything it can to keep you in a water shape. And as a result, you are going to feel terrible, and probably give up the diet plan. Then, you will not only be a water person, but you'll be a water person who is not taking care of her body well.
The solution? Creating a plan that fits your body type, because you're going to be able to stick with this plan, and that is going to be the only lifetime way of keeping yourself healthy and maximizing your physique.
Creating A Nutrition Plan
So how do we create plans? Assuming we want to bring in the five elements, of course.
Well, first, we need to remember about what types of exercise each body type is intended for, and which body systems (in qigong these are called "meridians") are dominated by which element.
- Fire: cardiovascular; heart, pericardium, small intestine, circulation
- Metal: resistance (specific); lung, large intestine
- Water: rhythmic; kidney, urinary bladder
- Wood: engthening; liver, gallbladder
- Earth: resistance (central); stomach, spleen
So, if we want to take care of our bodies, we need to be sure to take care of our primary element, first and foremost. And we can do that by thinking about how to take nourish our personal strengths. So how do we feed the body's different energy systems? By providing them with the nutrients that they use in their primary activities.
So wood people, for example, you have a tendency to be long and limber. So when deciding on your macronutrients, you should consider which will promote the lengthening of the muscles and their flexibility.
You do not need a diet that is super high in protein and low in carbohydrates, as your body isn't going to be working hard to "build up" muscle, anyway.
Of course, you need protein for muscle regeneration and general health, but you may be able to choose a diet that is higher in carbohydrates. And to promote this limberness, you are going to want to include some good, healthy fats, as well. So a wood person may have a higher carbohydrate, lower protein, moderate fat diet.
A sample ration might be something like 50 Carb / 20 Protein / 30 Fat.
Now, earth people, on the other hand, your bodies have a tendency to build muscle easily. And you also are able to do very challenging, central lifts. This means that your body is using a lot of protein to rebuild these essential muscles, and to power your specific sort of exercise, it is also using a fair amount of carbohydrate.
Short lifts require anaerobic strength, which uses carbohydrate for fuel. On the other hand, earth people probably do not use up a lot of fat, as they don't have a tendency to do much cardiovascular or lengthening exercise. So a good diet for an earth person would be moderate protein, moderate carbohydrate, and low fat.
An earth person might do well on a 40 Carb / 40 Protein / 20 Fat diet.
Water people, though they might share a stockier build with the earth people, obtain their shape through rhythmic, repeated exercise. This exercise is somewhat cardiovascular in nature, and also somewhat lengthening. So a water person is going to need more fats in their diets to fuel this sort of movement.
Additionally, like everyone else, water people need protein to build up muscles from the exercises they are doing. However, not engaging in lifts or movements that require a large amount of carbohydrate energy, and having a tendency to store energy as fat, water people may want to be more leery of the carbohydrates.
A water person may do very well on a ketogenic or target ketogenic diet. If they stick with it, using fats for energy will help a water person mobilize their stores and get leaner.
So a water person may opt for a 15 Carb / 35 Protein / 50 Fat diet or something similar.
I am not, admittedly, an expert on keto, but if you are interested in it as a water person, there are many forums available to answer questions!
What about fire people? Hooray for us. We excel at cardiovascular exercise, especially that which lasts for a duration. Contrary to what runners have been saying for a long, long time, "carbo-loading" is not the key to being a good endurance exerciser. The oxidative pathway uses stored muscle glycogen, yes, for energy, but it also mobilizes fats as enzymes.
The longer the duration of the activity, and the lower the intensity (not surprisingly, these often go hand in hand) the more fat is mobilized. Additionally, the body's glycogen stores usually deplete after a period of time (depending on the person and the activity, between 30 minutes and an hour is normal), and the body starts going after muscle as fuel.
Since we obviously don't want a major muscle loss, but we do enjoy engaging in cardiovascular work, we fire folks must create a diet that includes complex carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, with an emphasis on putting the complex carbohydrates pre-workout (to ensure those glycogen stores are full) and the proteins throughout the rest of the day (I enjoy protein pre-workout as well). This means we want a high protein, moderate carbohydrate, moderate fat diet.
Something like 50 Protein / 25 Carb / 25 Fat, I find, works very well.
Last but not least, the metal folk. Muscle bound lifting folk. You all need your protein, and you need your carbs to support your lifts. While you may not need as much carbohydrate as an earth person, you certainly need a fair amount to get those lifts going, and you may need more protein to develop those specific muscles.
You will do well on a diet that is high protein, moderate carbohydrate, and low fat.
Perhaps something like 50 Protein / 30 carbohydrate / 20 Fat will work well for you.
A Bit Of Trial & Error
Now, remember, these ratios are all just numbers I have created. You may find the ratio I've set up for your element isn't what your particular body functions best upon. In that case, trial and error is needed. Up one number, lower another, and keep doing it until your physique begins to change for the better. However, these are places for you to start from, and the benefits of them are that your body is going to at least feel more efficient during your workouts.
Remember, again, just because you are following your ratio and your diet to a tee doesn't mean you will automatically morph into Halle Berry or Madonna. You're body will change into the best version of itself, but if you're not made to be built like Halle or Madonna, I hate to admit it, but it's just not going to happen for you.
For example, my boss is a professional in-line skater. She skates probably somewhere around 20-miles per day and eats a very balanced diet. She also does yoga and stretching, and light resistance training.
Now, if I wanted to, I could eat the same foods as my boss does. We could take the same supplements. I could even go skate with her. But you know what? I will never look like my boss. She's six feet tall and as English in heritage as they come; I'm five-foot-three and Swiss. We're just made differently. So I do my thing and she does hers, both of us developing our physiques indefinitely, but to different ends.
So, one more question for you: what happens if you find yourself feeling "out of your element." For example, what happens if a metal person suddenly starts having trouble with her heart? High-cholesterol, for example? Well, as we look up at the chart, we see that the heart is dominated by fire. So to help a deficiency in the strength of the heart, a metal person might want to choose nutrients that are more associated with the fire category.
How do we know which nutrients these are? Well, again, let's think back to that first article. Remember how each element is not only associated with body parts and types of exercise and body types, but also with seasons, colors, and tastes? No? Here's another brief rundown:
- Fire: summer, bitter, bright colors
- Earth: late summer, sweet, yellow tones
- Metal: fall, pungent, white
- Water: winter, salty, blues and blacks
- Wood: springtime, sour, greens
So if your body [here, metal] needed more "fire" in order to balance out a problem with the heart (like high cholesterol), it would make sense to make choices that would increase the "fire" in the body. You'd stay within the nutritional ratio of metal, but you would choose foods associated with fire to help balance this out.
Tomatoes, for example, would be an excellent choice. Sunflower seeds would be another. Both of these foods are bright in color, associated with summer, and have a somewhat bitter taste. And we should not be surprised to discover that tomatoes are high in lycopene (a nutrient that has been shown to help lower cholesterol) and sunflower seeds contain CLA (conjugated linoleic acid, an omega-6 fat which is also good for the same).
If you are like me, and during a time of stress you are not creative enough to figure out the metaphorical puzzle of which foods fit into which groups, I suggest that you look at some of the foods listed on www.yinyanghouse.com:
Red Bell Pepper
|Green Bell Pepper
Remember, keep your elements ratios, but when you feel deficient in a certain area, choose foods from that group that help benefit that area. Likewise, if you are feeling ill in a particular area (and not surprisingly, many of your illnesses may fall within your element), you may want to check your diet for an overabundance of the "caution" food listed on that site.
- For Fire, the caution foods are chocolates and sweets
- For Earth, meat
- For Metal, eggs
- For Water, cheeses
- For Wood, soft dairy
Again, this doesn't mean that you earth folk can't enjoy your beef, just be sure you do it in moderation. And if you feel a sickness in an earth region (perhaps you are getting a bad case of indigestion in your stomach), moderate your meat intake and increase your intake of other earth foods.
You can always substitute something else (like fish, cottage cheese, even shakes) for that meat protein for a little while. When you get healthy, introduce it back into your diet, MODERATELY.
Like I said, the key to five elements nutrition is BALANCE. That's why they made the whole yin-yang thing. That's why the Karate Kid stands on one leg when he's kicking the @ss of the other guy in the ring. And that's why all the old scholars got to be "old" scholars, instead of "died of coronary infection at the age of thirty seven" scholars.
There's a lot of intelligence in new science, but there's wisdom in the old ways. By combining what we know about the body's physical processes with a knowledge of balanced nutrition derived from the five elements, we'll be able to create nutrition plans we can live with and thrive by. Next up: supplements for you elements! More things you can put in your mouth to maximize your body!