Diet and Lifestyle Counseling

In Oriental medicine, diet and lifestyle choices are key aspects of a treatment program for just about every health issue:

  • Joint pain
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Fertility
  • Acne
  • Insomnia,
  • Thyroid problems….the list goes on and on


I combine Chinese wisdom, Western dietetics (including food sensitivity testing if appropriate) to determine the best diet plan for my patients. To learn more about food sensitivities, click here! However, my role includes making diet and lifestyle recommendations AND checking in with people to see if they have implemented them. If they haven’t, why not?

After I graduated with a Masters in Traditional Chinese Medicine and passed my acupuncture board exam, I went to work for one of my teachers. I had been apprenticing with Misha Cohen, OMD, LAC  for years while also completing my Masters program. Working with her taught me so much, and I worked hard. For years I would drive to San Francisco, often for an 8am patient and leave after my workday to drive back to Santa Cruz. I think the most patients I ever saw in one day at her clinic was 28, though between 22-24 was typical. As a fresh graduate, I found that experience invaluable. The lessons I learned exert a profound influence on the way I practice medicine.

One day, after finishing my morning shift, I walked across Valencia street to the closest Japanese restaurant. It was busy, and I was nestled back in one of the corner booths. About 15 minutes later, I saw one of the patients I had treated earlier that morning come in with her daughter. I watched in amazement as she ordered cold sake and the “Tempura Plate” which consisted of fried shrimp, vegetables and anything else that would fit in the fryer. The plate was HUGE; it could have easily fed five people. She ate it all.

Now, cold sake with fried food is rarely on anyone’s Chinese medicine diet plan. However, she was under my care for GALLSTONES! Yes! She experienced gallbladder pain on a daily basis, had yellow-greasy stools and was diagnosed with gallstones on ultrasound. That morning, her behavior was no different than usual at her appointment: she asked my opinion on several herbal formulas she had found on the internet that week (she had already been prescribed high quality Chinese herbal formulas) in hopes they would soothe her gallbladder, we went over in detail how to prepare the dandelion greens she grew and she described with picture perfect clarity the intensity and frequency of her gallbladder pain during the week. She was very frustrated with her degree of pain and perceived lack of progress.

I thought about her all week. How was I going to bring this up to her? She was a smart person but…was it possible that she didn’t know fried food and alcohol would negate ANY Chinese herbal prescription? That having a fried extravaganza less than two hours after a weekly acupuncture appointment was one of the WORST activities she could engage in, unless she actively did not want to experience improvement?Fried Food Extravaganza

At our next appointment, as gently as I could, I told her that I saw her and her daughter at the restaurant the week prior.

Her face flushed and she looked horrified. I didn’t have to ask her any questions. It was clear that she was well educated on her condition and knew exactly how counterproductive her “tempura everything” lunch was. I did not ask her about any other meals, what she had for dinner that night or what she ate over the last week. It was clear that she was so mortified, a line of questioning like that would not have been productive. With tact, I explained that fried food made her gallbladder overwork and that drinking something cold, much less the liver toxin alcohol, with fried food would congeal the grease, making it difficult for anyone to digest without pain, much less someone with gallstones. She responded that yes, she did know that, but that she was powerless over her cravings.

I never saw her again.

This experience taught me several things that I actively keep in mind when discussing dietary and lifestyle shifts with patients:

  1. Make a few changes at a time–start small and build up
  2. Explain WHY it is helpful to avoid certain foods
  3. Explain HOW foods can be avoided by suggesting several substitutes 
  4. If the patient falls off the wagon (eats cake at a birthday after avoiding sugar for weeks), discuss how they felt afterwards. Did their symptoms come back? Did they feel bloated, sick, etc? Or did they handle it fairly well and not suffer any consequences? This is important information in assessing a patient’s progress.
  5. IF a patient tries and CAN NOT make dietary changes, I ask the question, WHY? Is there an energetic block that can be addressed with acupuncture? Can I help them by decreasing their cravings with specific acupuncture treatments?
  6. DOES a patient need more support? Referring patients out to groups, psychotherapists, personal trainers, nutritionists and/or suggesting books with meal plans and recipes can be incredibly helpful.

In the Oriental medical perspective, food IS medicine. Herbal formulas are simply an extension of this idea. In fact, there are several Chinese dishes that incorporate herbs into meals (they can even taste good, believe it or not) for the treatment of diabetes, the common cold, psoriasis, etc. Patients may need my help incorporating other lifestyle changes regarding exercise patterns, yoga routines, sleeping schedules, etc.  While conveying diet and lifestyle information is crucial, it is only part of the picture. Patients have to see how it is POSSIBLE to implement changes in their day to day lives.

Experience, not books or classes, taught me this pivotal lesson about how to help patients achieve success and wellness.

To find out what type of diet is right for you Schedule Your Appointment NOW!