Food for Thought: The Stomach Channel

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Let’s explore the Stomach channel as one of the Primary channels in Chinese medicine. 

When we talk about the stomach we, naturally, need to talk about food. The Stomach channel, as well as the process of digestion begins at and with the eyes. When we look at food, when we see food, we start salivating immediately. The body knows that food is coming and needs to prepare. You’ve probably heard of the saying “to eat with your eyes” – this is how we begin the process of digestion.

We look at the food, we smell the food, we taste the food, we chew the food, and that is the beginning of the Stomach channel. It starts at the eye, goes to the nose, the mouth, the jaw, and then it enters the brain.

This is the interesting thing about food. Food is never just what it is.

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Digestion and Information

When we eat food, it’s not just the nutritional value of it that we ingest. The Stomach channel goes to the brain because the food we eat brings up information, memories, opinions and judgments. It’s impossible to eat something and not to think about what it is that you are eating.

When you eat the food that your mom cooked when you were growing up, some people may call it “comfort food,” you will remember events when you ate that food. On the other hand, if your mom made that food and perhaps you don’t like your mom, you won’t like that food because it reminds you of that.

When we eat “healthy” food, something gave us the idea that it is healthy. You may have read about it in a magazine or looked it up: “Let’s Google the benefits of kale” then you read about kale’s benefits and then you eat it. That information comes in with the kale as it enters your Stomach channel.

To Eat It or Not To Eat It

Same goes for fast food restaurants, for example. You may love fast food restaurants. You may remember going to a fast food restaurant with your family, eating together, bringing you comfort so you have a love of that food. On the other hand, you might associate fast food restaurants with documentaries or information from books or articles you’ve read about how that food is produced and processed before it gets to the restaurant, which then forms your judgment about that type of restaurant. Aside from the fact that you most likely will never set foot in a fast food restaurant because of these judgments, if you are forced to eat that food, those feelings cannot be separated from the food that you eat. It’s impossible to separate the two.

You might be an explorer and very curious about food and love tasting new things. So the exploration and excitement of discovering new things will be part of your experience when you eat those new things. On the other hand, you can be very suspicious of things that you don’t know. You may not be excited about eating things that you don’t know and perhaps you travel to a different country where you’re not familiar with the food. As you taste these unfamiliar foods, you may be the one that comes home with parasites, or gets food poisoning. It’s not necessarily because of what you ate. It’s because of the entire experience you had that is tainted by your opinion about that experience.

Mulling Things Over

The Stomach channel is in charge of anything that comes in and that you need to process. When we take in food we need to process it because the food itself as it is cannot enter your cells. That’s a magic that happens in the body that from this carrot, bread or meat, whatever it is that you take in the body, takes it in and transforms it into particles that can enter a cell.

In Chinese medicine, nothing is one-sided. The Stomach is not only about food. Part of what you take-in is information. For example, what you are reading is likely new information. You might have heard it before but you’ve never heard it in the way it is being delivered now. So now you’re reading and processing it for the first time. That’s why we have sayings like “I need to mull things over.” “Mulling things over” is to chew on them. We are not saying it about food, we are saying it about information. Whenever we receive new information, we “mull it over,” we need to digest it and even use a phrase like “I need to digest this new information because that was a lot”.

The Body’s Translator

So the Stomach channel helps us with new information because this information, just like food, needs to be translated to something that you understand. The way it’s translated into something that you understand is that it goes to your brain, and your brain starts making connections with your personal history, knowledge and experience. The Stomach channel takes in everything that you’re reading right now that you are then going to mull over. You’re going to digest it and eventually if you agree, you will keep the information and grow from it just like we do with food. If you don’t agree with me, you’re going to go to the toilet, and you’re going to let it go because it doesn’t serve you, exactly like we do with food.

The way you eat is very often the way you deal with new information. You might be the person that chews their food over and over and over again. Before you actually swallow. You just need to mull it over,  a lot. Look to see if you are also the person that reads a paragraph five or six times over and over and over again before you fully take it in. On the other hand, you might be someone that doesn’t really chew their food at all, you just take it in. You might be the fast reader “Oh I just need to skim it. I get the idea. Got it.”

If you start looking at how you eat and start looking at how you deal with new information, I bet you’ll find some interesting connections:

How suspicious are you of new foods / How suspicious are you of new information?

How curious are you about these things, both food and new information?

What do you do with it once you take it in? Do you process it a lot?  Does it make you nauseous?

Gut Feelings

Getting nauseous is really a sign that our body wants to send something back out.  “I am rejecting this idea. I’m rejecting this food. Therefore I want to throw it back up.” Getting nauseous or throwing things back out means your body did not like it. Some ideas can be nauseating. Pay attention to these things.

The Stomach channel is connected to our Gut Feeling. We live in a society that doesn’t teach us to trust our gut. That’s why we always go to Google, that’s why we always need to ask the experts. “Is this good to eat? Is this bad to eat?” Food, these days, is all about trends. One day, kale is the thing and the next day kale is absolutely not the thing for you. The same goes for other things like wine, coffee, bread, this vitamin, the other grain. Everyday there’s a new expert with a new opinion and we get confused. Chinese medicine placed the Stomach channel right at the beginning because your gut knows!

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