What Is A Macrobiotic Diet?

The macrobiotic diet is one focused on whole grains, vegetables, and beans but also incorporates lifestyle elements and efforts to balance the body’s opposing energies. Proponents of this diet say it can support healing of chronic pain conditions, including fibromyalgia.

Consider the story of Lizzz Klein, who lived a fast-paced life as an entrepreneur and businesswoman until she started experiencing fatigue, pain, and frequent sickness, she writes on the Kushi Institute website. She writes:

“Over the next few years, I became a candidate for the person with the most symptoms in the Guinness Book of World Records. They included chronic fatigue, bowel problems, urinary and bladder problems, irregular heartbeat, depression, neuromuscular, and finally breast lumps that lead to tumors. My whole body was breaking down.”

Eventually, the formerly vibrant and busy woman was confined to a wheelchair after she began to lose the use of her limbs. As Klein’s body shut down, doctors told her to start planning her funeral. She returned home to lie in a bed that had a specially built frame on top, so the nurse could lay covers over it and avoid causing Klein pain. Her skin was so sensitive that she couldn’t tolerate the pressure of blankets.

But still, Klein fought to survive. Surrounding her bed were books on every subject of natural healing, from prayer to herbal medicine. She used the limited mobility she had in one arm to turn the pages of a book about alternative healing and spied the words “macrobiotic” and “natural healing.” Klein intuitively homed in on those words and marked them, waiting for her fiancé to come home.

When he arrived later, Klein asked him to read the pages and the incident led to her embarking on the journey of a macrobiotic diet. In three weeks, the same amount of time her doctors gave her to live, Klein rose from her wheel chair to stand on her own.

She fueled her body with brown rice, miso soup, beans, tofu, fresh vegetables, and sea vegetables such as seaweed. Klein says that although her macrobiotic journey has had twists and turns, her health has steadily improved.

What is the macrobiotic diet?

A macrobiotic diet is founded on principles of eating a plant-based, low-fat, high-fiber diet. It also includes lifestyle components of eating regular meals, chewing thoroughly, and staying active. People adhering to the lifestyle are also encouraged to keep a positive outlook, according to WebMD.

The diet emerged in the late 1800s, created by a Japanese army doctor named Sagen Ishizuka. Its main principles characterize food as a foundation for health and happiness. The food we eat should be locally grown and eaten according to season. That means squash in winter and berries in summer. Food should be whole, unrefined, and as close to its natural state as possible.

According to the Macrobiotics Guide:

“Macrobiotics is a way of life, based on an understanding of the rhythm, the ebb and flow of nature.”

What do I eat?

The macrobiotic diet recommends daily intake of beans, vegetables, sea and water vegetables, pickles, and whole grains, according to the Kushi Institute. The Institute’s namesake founder, Michio Kushi, is widely recognized as the person who brought macrobiotics to the United States in the early 1950s.

Foods that may be eaten up to several times per week include fruits, seeds, and nuts. Monthly, optional indulgences include meat, dairy, eggs, and poultry. Fish and seafood may be eaten about once a week, if desired.

Recommended cooking methods include steaming, boiling, or sautéing with a small amount of cold, pressed oil. The most recommended vegetables include kale, broccoli, cauliflower, pumpkin, mustard greens, onions, carrots, and winter squash. The macrobiotic diet recommends limiting the intake of potatoes, eggplants, peppers, spinach, beets, tomatoes, and zucchini.

The idea is that by fueling the body with the cleanest, most easy-to-digest foods, it becomes free to operate at maximum efficiency, which in turn supports health.

What are the lifestyle suggestions?

The macrobiotic diet focuses heavily on balance, and like many other diet and health systems that originated in the East, it incorporates lifestyle components. The idea behind this is that it’s impossible to separate the mind from the body or the surrounding environment. Health in one area supports health in other areas.

Macrobiotic diet principles for living include:

  • Eat only when hungry. Eat two or three times per day, but the proportion should be an appropriate size and each mouthful of food must be thoroughly chewed before swallowing, about 50 times per bite. Ideally, stop eating when you feel satisfied, before feeling full.
  • Eat in a relaxed state of mind. Sit with good posture and take a moment to express gratitude for the meal.
  • Go to bed before midnight and having not eaten for at least two hours to ensure an empty stomach and restful sleep.
  • Spend as much time as possible outdoors, and try to get time in direct sunlight to soak up the sun’s warming rays and important vitamin D.
  • Keep in mind the source of personal care products like soaps and shampoos. Many contain toxic ingredients. Kushi Institute recommends avoiding products with chemical fragrances and other non-natural ingredients.
  • Scrub the whole body, or at least the hands and feet, with a hot, damp towel every morning and night.
  • “Sing a happy song!” the Kushi Institute recommends, to keep a smile on your face.

How does the macrobiotic diet help with chronic pain?

There haven’t been many Western studies on the macrobiotic diet and chronic pain, but some people have found it helpful in dealing with their health conditions.

Macrobiotic theory posits that illness results when the two main energetic forces of yin and yang are out of balance. Yang is a strong, dynamic, masculine, and active energy while yin is female, cool, fluid, slow, and receptive. The dietary and lifestyle measures are designed to bring these energies into balance and encourage healing.

After switching to the diet, it can take several months to see any changes. If you do decide to investigate a macrobiotic diet, it’s best to do so under the care of a physician or other medical expert.

Do you have any experiences with the macrobiotic diet?

Image by Mr.TinDC via Flickr