Lifestyle Adjustments for Winter

Winter is the season of the kidney. According to the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine, by Maoshing Ni, this is when “all things in nature wither, hide, return home, and enter a resting period, yin dominates yang.”


This is visible in the trees and plants and even the animals. It’s natural for us to be more quiet and reserved during the winter. In the fall I shared some tips for adjusting your lifestyle according to the seasons so here are more tips to help make winter a little more tolerable.

Some recommendations from the Yellow Emperor are:

“Retire early, get up with the sunrise”

Is anyone else struggling to adjust to it getting dark at 5:00 p.m.!? It seems to be more difficult this year, so I find it helpful to go to bed a little early and attempt to sleep in a little extra… Obviously this is not always easy/possible but it’s good to be mindful of the change.

“Stay warm, avoid the cold, keep pores closed, avoid sweating”

Eat warm foods and drink warm drinks to help warm your body.  Be sure to layer up and keep your skin covered – your skin is your largest organ and can be very susceptible to the wind and cold, wind and cold are very common causes of EPIs. When your skin pores are open, your chances of getting sick (from an EPI) are increased.

“Conservation and storage philosophy”

Just like the bears hibernate, it is helpful to conserve your resources and energy. The winter corresponds to yin, as opposed to yang. Yin is internal and more hidden. In order to have enough yin, it is helpful to rest.

During the winter I like to stay in, cuddle up by the fire, and drink warm tea. What about you?


The Spleen & Stomach: the Root of Your Body’s Health

It is understood that the spleen and stomach are at the root of the health of the body. If the spleen and stomach are working well, the patient will recover more quickly. Therefore, eat and drink warm, easily digestible foods and drinks: tea, soups, congee, steamed veggies. Stay away from cold drinks and food, fatty, sweet and greasy foods.


Food Therapy:

Wind Heat symptoms: feverish, thirsty, sweaty, sore throat

Eat: grapefruit, lemons, parsley, pears, peppermint, tofu, turnips


Wind Cold symptoms: chills, crave warmth, aches and pains all over

Eat: chicken soup, cayenne, garlic, scallions, chili pepper, ginger tea


Responding to Cold & Flu Symptoms

According to Chinese Medicine, when a person gets sick, we refer to this as having an external pathogenic invader (EPI). This means that it is an external condition and the goal is to expel the external pathogen first and then gently tonify the internal so one does not get sick again. When you feel like you are starting to get sick, the way you respond can determine if you will be under the weather for a few days or weeks.

It is important to take action quickly and appropriately at the first onset of symptoms. Generally, EPIs in America may be dealt with as follows:

Get plenty of rest. The importance of resting cannot be overstated. When you rest, your qi and blood is able to replenish itself to try to fight off the EPI. If you continue with your busy schedule and high demands, your qi and blood won’t be able to keep up with your schedule let alone fighting off the enemy!

Layer up! When a person dresses warmly the extra layer of clothing helps warm the body, which supports the yang qi. This allows the yang qi to focus on fighting the EPI and not work so hard to keep the body warm. With most EPI, the goal is to induce a mild sweat, so that the EPI may be expelled. It is difficult to induce a mild sweat if you are not properly covered.

Consume warm food and drinks. In modern America, it is not uncommon to constantly be ingesting cold foods and drinks. However, you may not know how harmful this can be to your body, especially when you are trying to fight off an illness of some sort. Just like it is important for the yang qi to keep you warm, it is also important that your food and drink helps contribute to this. Your spleen and stomach are in charge of digestion. These organs are like a melting pot; in order for the substance to be extracted from the food, it needs to be hot. Think of how much harder your spleen and stomach need to work if what you consume is cold! Cold foods can require your spleen and stomach to work harder, which in turn may cause them to be a little deficient at times. During times of sickness, you definitely don’t want your spleen to be deficient.

See your acupuncturist if you feel your body needs an extra boost to fight off the EPI and to determine other modalities that may be appropriate.

See your primary care physician if symptoms progress or worsen.

**The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.

Acupuncture Ally: Food Therapy

Every food, liquid, spice and condiment has properties that the East recognizes, including temperature of food, taste (sour, sweet, bitter, astringent, pungent), acidity, channels affects and the effect of the food. This shows us that food is more than just food; food is actually the simplest form of medicine. What we eat really does make up what our body has to fuel itself on.

Rules to Eating:

  • Eat slowly and only when you are hungry.
  • Be in a calm environment, don’t eat when you are upset or angry.
  • Stop eating when you are about 75% full. A piece of helpful advice from a previous teacher of mine: the moment you stop tasting what you’re eating and/or the moment you could ‘take it or leave it’ you should stop.
  • Be aware of how you feel before you eat and after you eat. Your body is really smart and will tell you if it doesn’t like something, although it may be difficult to pick up on these clues initially. Sensitivities may be in the form of abdominal upset and bowel movements, or things such as skin rashes or headaches.


  • Warm foods: either cooked, steamed, baked, etc. Warm foods are easier for your spleen and stomach to digest.
  • Easily digestible foods such as soups and congee. These foods are easy on your spleen and stomach, and can actually help them work better, leading to better digestion and health.
  • For the season, in the summer it is okay to eat cooler foods, such as watermelon, to cool your body. However, if you are in the air conditioning all day long, you will want to take that into account. In the winter, it is better to eat hot and warm foods to nourish and warm your body.
  • Include protein and healthy fats in your breakfast to properly fuel your body and to reduce the amount of cravings later in the day.


  • Fried food, sugar, alcohol. These foods have properties that cause stagnation. When stagnation occurs, it can eventually turn to heat. Stagnation, heat and cold can damage your stomach’s ability to “rotten and ripen” the food and inpair the function of the spleen to “transform and transport” the nutrients.
  • Cold, raw foods are hard on your stomach and spleen and may cause bloating, gas and loose stools. In The Tao of Healthy Eating, Flaws explains how our body is able to absorb more of the nutrients in cooked foods opposed to raw foods.
  • Processed food. The ultimate goal should be to be eating whole, real foods. Our body doesn’t know what to do with processed food, even taking into account the artificial sweeteners. In that case, it’s better to have real sugar; at least our body knows what to do with it.
  • Speaking of sugar, we can’t stress enough how important it is to reduce our sugar consumption altogether. Sugar causes stagnation and phlegm, and therefore may cause pain, along with many other symptoms.
  • Dairy… yes dairy. It can also cause phlegm and stagnation. A little dairy is ok, if your body tells you it is ok. But be aware of how it makes you feel.
  • Eating close to bedtime. If you eat too close to when you go to sleep, your body will be trying to digest the food when it should be focusing on other body systems. Eating close to bedtime may result in poor sleep. Refrain from eating two hours before bed.

Recommended Reading:

The Tao of Healthy Eating by Bob Flaws: Summarizes the theory behind Traditional Chinese Medicine and digestion and how the body works.
Helping Ourselves: A Guide to Traditional Chinese Food Energetics by David Leggett: “a beginners guide to nutrition according to the principles of Chinese medicine.”