In Chinese Medicine, we have five seasons and five elements. This fifth season is Late Summer and the transition time in between seasons. The related element and taste are Earth and Sweet. In a world where sugary foods are overly abundant and conveniently available, this element is easily out of harmony. The Late Summer is an energetically potent time to look at how we can work with this element and understand why the Sweet is out of balance in our life. This is perhaps a new old way to look at sugar addiction.
What is Late Summer? What does the Earth Element’s movement mean for our inner centre?
Late Summer is that part of the year that takes us to the Fall Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. This Earth Element season is also approximately the two weeks in between seasons. One of the purposes of this interseason is to ground the energy of the departing season and to bring it into the new. The Earth Element is a harmonizer and transitioning energy.
The Earth Element is about anchoring, stability, practicality, groundedness, and structure. It is also about nourishment, nurturance, and care – think Mother Earth. It is home, feet on the ground, our roots,
Vedic philosopher Jeffrey Armstrong shares the mantra “I am with Mother”. Being cradled by Mother feels safe, belonging, and loved. This is an important reminder that “I have earth’s permission to be here. I was born here.” By reclaiming this right as part of our story allows us to take back the power of embodiment. Being comfortable in our skin and in our body means we can show up in life feeling connected and grounded in our inviolable space.
Take a moment now to see how balanced this element is in your life.
- Do you have a daily routine?
- Do you feel connected to and supported by the ground beneath your feet and Mother Earth?
- What kind of self-care practice do you have? Are you able to say yes and no?
- Do you have an energizing morning ritual and a relaxing night ritual to transition into and out of the day?
- How often do you walk in a green space? Do you stand barefoot on the grass?
- How much sweet food do you take? Would you say you are struggling with a sugar addiction?
What is Sweet In your Life?
Sweet is not the problem. It is essential actually. We produce energy from sugar and the taste of sweet generally means it is safe to eat. We also need sweetness in our lives, emotionally and symbolically. So sweet is not the issue. It’s how we’ve been supersizing the junk sugars and using them as a primary source of sweetness in life.
We hear how the food industry deliberately engineers food to make it addictive and therefore profitable. We also know now just how addictive sugar is – more than cocaine they say. This dysregulate the brain’s reward system. Studies have shown that a few days without junk food can elicit withdrawal symptoms, which drive a person to seek for more and then to binge on it.
…and our sugar addiction?
Perhaps our fondness for all things sugary is a combination of the designed addictiveness of these foods and an imbalanced Earth Element.
In Chinese Medicine, each of the element is associated with an organ system. For the Earth Element, this is the Spleen and the Stomach. The flavour that supports these organs and organ energies is sweet. Therefore sweet supports their functions of digesting, assimilating, and transporting the physical, mental, and emotional, as well as being nourished and cared for. Something sweet, like the fruit they serve after dinner at Chinese restaurants, acts as a digestive aid.
When we eat too much sugary food, we throw the Earth Element out of harmony and weaken our digestive system. This can be bloating, poor digestion, more dampness, and we look for ways to feel better. We may reach for our comfort food which is wrapped up all kinds of emotional meaning.
As the Earth Element continues to be unbalanced, we may feel pushed off centre, rather than anchored within our inner being. We may be feeling untethered and uncomfortably challenged in face of adversity and life’s rhythms. Incessant worry, rumination, and adrenal stimulation from stress can also unbalance the Earth Element.
Where are you drawing sweetness from? Food, praise and attention from others, or the wellspring of life itself?
|Season||Late Summer and Interseason|
|Organs||Spleen and Stomach|
|Emotions||Worry, anxiety, sympathy|
|Time of Day||Afternoon|
|Time of Life||Adulthood|
Understanding the Earth Element
Each element in Chinese Medicine has a constellation of associations. As these aspects are interconnected, you can balance and unbalance an element through them as well.
The Earth Element is associated with the Late Summer as well as the time between the seasons. If the Earth Element is unbalanced, possible symptoms such as sugar addiction, feeling ungrounded and off-centre, poor digestion, weakened muscles, and excessive worry, may be exacerbated during these times of the year.
In this article, we focus on our sugar addiction and our relationship with sweetness.
According to study published in Environment and Behaviour, there may be links between feeling out of control and stressed, being in a messy environment, and unhealthy food choices.
101 female college students participated in this study by Cornell University Food and Brand Lab.
First, these women were asked to either write about a time when they were in control or out of control. They were then asked to taste and rate cookies, crackers, and carrots and to wait in the kitchen. The women were also invited to as many of the leftovers as they wanted while they waited.
The findings were that the women who had earlier written about a time they were out of control and waited in the messy kitchen ate twice as many cookies as those who also wrote about the same thing but waited in the clean orderly kitchen.
Interestingly, the women who wrote about a time they were in control were not so effected by whether the kitchen was clean or messy. They ate about 50% less.
How much of the other food eaten was not so influenced by either the feeling of being out of control or the state of the kitchen.
This suggests that when we are stressed and surrounded by chaos, we may more likely reach for unhealthy foods.
See if this is true for you. If you find yourself stressed and in a messy or chaotic situation, pay keen attention to how you feel and what you are craving for. Try these decluttering tips.
Does this mean when we are more grounded, finding our inner wellspring of strength and anchoring, we can make healthy food choices more easily?
One of the ways people experience sweetness in life is through food. Having the right amount and the right type of sweet, however, is important to health and harmony. We can consider food that is round, yellow, and naturally and mildly sweet such as sweet yellow tomatoes, squashes, and corn. Tonic herbs including adaptogens like astralagus are also supportive and help us transition better into the fall and winter seasons.
This food that we put on our plate – what we normally call food – is only one type. There are actually two kinds of food – Primary and Secondary. Primary food is the aspects of how we live our life – relationships, vocation, spirituality, for example. How we feel, what we believe, how we connect with ourselves and others directly affect whether we are nourished and nurtured.
When we feed ourselves a healthy diet of Primary food, we are fed by life itself. We therefore need less of Secondary food, especially the stimulating, sedative, and comforting kinds.
Dealing with Sugar Addiction
An imbalance in the Earth Element is related with indulgence of the sweet flavour. Addressing our sugar cravings, which has an effect on metabolic health, is key to overall well-being. More than weight and Body Mass Index (BMI), it is the type and location of fat that is more indicative of health. Visceral fat around the abdominal is much less desirable than fat just beneath the skin around the rest of the body.
When we consume too much sugary foods, we further imbalance the Earth Element. As this element is related to structure, our teeth and bones may be adversely affected by our sugar habit. While strength training has a positive effect on osteoporosis, we can also look at the diet and the Earth Element.
One way to release our sugar cravings is to examine honestly where this craving originates from. The addictiveness and the seeming satiation of sugar foods, strengthened by hits of dopamine from our reward centre, doesn’t help. However, what drives us to consume this food in the first place? What makes us reach for donuts and ice cream rather than naturally sweet fruits? Why do we kick back with a soda rather than a cup of herbal tea?
Surf Your Cravings
The good thing about cravings is that they pass. They do! The question is what do we do in the meantime? How do we stop the incessant dialogue, the images, and the pull?
Psychologist Alan Marlatt helps people with addictions by “Surfing the Urge.” Mindful eating expert Andrea Lieberstein has added a heart focus to this method to help with the edge. This technique is included in the book The Telomere Effect. The authors provide a script that you can record yourself reading or you can download the audio version available on their website. You can also find a score of resources and tips that promote telomere health. (Telomeres are the non-coding DNA at the end of the chromosomes. With each cell division, telomeres shorten until they don’t and cells move into the “senile” stage of cellular life. As an imagery, the telomeres are like caps on shoelaces to stop things from unravelling. Contrary to previously believed, telomeres can be lengthened and thereby so can the healthspan.)
Give It A Try – Surf Your Cravings
The idea of surfing your craving is not to resist, suppress, or run from it. Like in meditation, you don’t control. Instead, explore the craving, feel it within the body with all your senses. Use the breathe to move through the sensations and to release any tension and discomfort you may feel. Probably this is the first time ever that you are seeing your craving up close and personal. At least from this perspective. To help take the edge off your craving, focus on your heart and visualize kindness, compassion, and warmth flowing out to the rest of the body.
Through experiencing the craving in this way, you can learn that like an emotion, it passes. It doesn’t require you to act on it, fight it, or scratch like it as if it were an itch.
The abundant availability and easy access to junk and processed food makes it the easy choice for a fast-faced world fed on a diet of convenience and disconnection. The dizzying changes and information flow can unbalance many people who worry and ruminate about the state of affairs. It isn’t so surprising then that the Earth Element may not be harmonized.
If you have a sugar addiction, it may be more than just the engineered content of the foods today. Cutting out sugar, even if it were possible long term, is not really the answer. We need sugars to derive energy. While we can introduce more Primary Food and healthier naturally sweet foods, in the meantime we still have the cravings that come along with a sugar addiction. Try surfing your craving as part of a holistic approach to harmonizing the Earth Element. At the core, look at where you are getting sweetness from. How can you experience the sweetness, pleasure, and care that are already present in your life?