How to Eat - Part 2 - Regularity

Nourishing Life #3 : How to Eat Part 2 - Regularity

After Quantity (see Nourishing Life #2), the next most important aspect of ‘how’ we eat to pay attention to is the regularity of meals and the environment in which we eat.

Our bodies love regularity and rhythm. We are natural beings and although all the wonders of technology allow us to operate 24/7, the closer we stick to a routine the happier our body and mind tends to be. Kids are happier with a routine and so is our digestive system.

‘When eating and drinking is doubled, the stomach and intestines are seriously harmed’

Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic, 2nd Century BCE

Li Dong Yuan (1180-1252) . The 'Stomach and Spleen' School

Li Dong Yuan (1180-1252) . The 'Stomach and Spleen' School

In Chinese medicine, the digestive system as a whole is referred to as the ‘Stomach and Spleen’ *. Li Dongyuan (1180-1252) headed a school of thought in Chinese medicine called the ‘Stomach and Spleen’ school where the health of the digestive system was emphasised as paramount.

The nutrition and energy contained in food cannot be fully extracted without a healthy digestive system - a fact that was obvious to Li Dongyuan - and is borne out by the presence of many modern digestive disorders.

*Capitalized organ names such as ‘Stomach’ or ‘Spleen’ make reference to the Chinese Medicine meaning of these organs. These are distinct from the anatomical organs and viscera we are familiar with in Western biomedicine for which I use the lower case spelling e.g. spleen, stomach.

Digestive Disease

A weakened or compromised digestive system can give rise to chronic diseases which are suffered by 1 in 5 Americans.  Common diseases include chronic constipation, diverticulitis, IBS, stomach ulcers, acid reflux and indigestion. The treatment cost for these diseases in the US in 2004 was $140 billion - a figure rising annually.

In 2006, Americans spent $13 billion on antacid medications (e.g.Gaviscon, Rennies, Windeze) which help to treat digestive symptoms but fail to address the underlying cause of digestive discomfort. In the long run, this approach of treating the ‘branch’ symptoms but not the ‘root’ cause is ill advised as it may mask the progression of a more serious chronic digestive disease.

The Chinese nourishing life guidance that follows suggests ways to look after our digestive system so that it remains the cornerstone of our health and longevity for years to come. Once again, this article draws content and references from Peter Deadman's book 'Live Long, Live Well: Teachings from the Chinese Nourishment of Life Tradition which I highly recommend.

Don’t overeat

Eating smaller amounts of a nutritionally complete diet is (alongside drinking hot water) one of the easiest dietary changes we could make -  but it is often one of the hardest.

Calorie Restriction and it’s benefits for health, longevity and brain function are explained in ‘How to Eat - Quantity’.

But how do we cut down on our food intake?

David A. Kessler** -  a self confessed foodaholic -  in his book ‘The End of Overeating’ has real empathy for us all in this dilemma.

Kessler’s book covers the ways in which food manufacturers ‘engineer’ foods to be optimally addictive and gives many social, psychological and neurological explanations for why we can eat too much.

**I highly recommend Kessler as a pioneering advocate for the public in the face of big business. He took on the tobacco companies to get health warnings on packets, and lobbied successfully for nutritional information on processed foods.

Visual Cues & Bottomless Bowls

One of my favourite findings on overeating relates to the ‘visual cues’ that tell us when we are full.

Up to a certain age babies are able to self-regulate how much they eat. They eat until they are full, then they stop. As a parent with a 15 month old I’m constantly surprised by how little my son needs to eat, but yet he is perfectly healthy and energetic.

Things change when we are socialised at the table and are encouraged to clean our plates so as not to leave any food. We move from knowing ourselves when we are full, to having to eat everything that is put in front of us because it is polite or because if we do we’ll get a reward (often more food - like an ice cream!).

The importance of this visual cue for ‘satiety’ (fullness) can become a problem as we can easily overestimate how much food we need. Bigger plates mean bigger portions and the potential to unknowingly eat more than we need.

In one famous Cornell study, two groups were given bowls of soup to eat and asked to stop when they were full.

Group A had a normal bowl of soup.

Group B were given a bowl of soup with a false bottom hiding a tube that allowed experimenters to secretly refill the bowl.

Group B ate 73% more soup than Group A before declaring they were full. Asked what they thought of the soup, some Group B participants even responded “It wasn’t very filling”.

This study graphically shows the importance of making sure we put less food on our plates because we are socially conditioned to eat whatever is on it.

Cartoon produced by the 'Bottomless Bowl' experimenter Brain Wansink

Cartoon produced by the 'Bottomless Bowl' experimenter Brain Wansink

Eat at regular times

The traditional boundaries of mealtimes have been eroded to such an extent that we can now eat anywhere, anytime. Fast food, Deliveroo and high streets lined with sandwich shops means the temptation to eat is ever present.

In urban China this phenomenon is growing. However, in many parts of China, it is still seen as important for co-workers to stop, sit together and enjoy meals at regular times through the day.

Sit down and relax when you eat

Eating anywhere, anytime means we can eat at our desk, in the car or walking along the street. Anywhere but at a table with a knife and fork (or chopsticks).

This issue does not persist is Asia. In Japan it is considered bad manners to eat whilst walking. In China, for many eating in silence is still the the norm so that food can be enjoyed without interruption.

Personally, I am a real advocate of taking a moment before eating to give thanks for all the work of man and nature that has made the meal possible. I’ve also spent many weeks on meditation retreats where silent eating is the norm. It is amazing how much more you appreciate food when you are able to give it undivided attention.

A 'silent' meal of sorts - Charlie Chaplin eats his boot in 'The Goldrush'

A 'silent' meal of sorts - Charlie Chaplin eats his boot in 'The Goldrush'

Eat slowly and chew your food well

Have you ever heard the saying - ‘The stomach has no teeth’.

If we are eating the right kinds of food - whole foods - we need to chew them slowly tom make our food more digestible and allows our brain to accurately detect when we are full.

Processed foods, are engineered to be both ‘hyperpalatable’ and easy to break down in the mouth so they can be swallowed before we’ve even registered them and reach for another. See David A. Kessler’s description of how a Snickers is created to do just that.

Eating too fast has also been linked to tripling the risk of developing type II diabetes (citation re'd)

Take a stroll after eating

‘Walk a hundred paces after a meal and one can live 99 years’ 

Chinese proverb

‘Eating to satiation and then lying down causes the hundred diseases, including indigestion and energetic blockages’

Nourishing Inner Nature and Extending Life, 7th/8th Centuries.

As the day wears on our digestion becomes more sluggish and slows down. The Chinese advice to move the body after eating is especially important after an evening meal and implies we should not eat close to bedtime.

Mild exercise after eating a high fat meal has been shown in a Japanese study to reduce levels of fats in the blood more significantly than exercise before eating.

Personally I can endorse this method as it is how I structure my mealtimes but I’m not a purist.

Enjoying an evening stroll -  'la passegiatta' - in Brindisi, Italy

Enjoying an evening stroll -  'la passegiatta' - in Brindisi, Italy

The Italian’s do know how to live well and ‘la dolce vita’ incorporates a nice slow lunch followed by a siesta. This is ideally followed by an dense evening meal preceded by ‘la passegiatta’ - a stroll to work up an appetite.

So whether you stroll before or after dinner depends on your preference .

Or perhaps on your holiday destination.

How to Eat Part 1 - Quantity

Nourishing Life #2 - How to Eat Part 1 - Quantity

This article draws on the content of Peter Deadman’s ‘Live Long, Live Well: Teachings from the Chinese Nourishment of Life Tradition’ which I highly recommend you read for more on this broad subject. 

In Part 1, we look at what Chinese dietary wisdom has to teach us about how much we should eat for health, longevity and brain function.

Food over medicine

Chinese Medicine and the nourishment of life tradition - yang sheng - puts diet at the heart of any efforts to maintain good health, treat disease and achieve longevity.

If you visit a Chinese medicine practitioner, you are likely to receive guidance on how to adjust your diet to support your treatment and condition. Dietary therapy is a branch of Chinese medicine in its own right, reflected in a common Chinese proverb:

‘He that takes medicine and neglects diet wastes the skills of the physician’

Pineapples and Pills

For most of human history our choice of foods has been restricted to what we could grow ourselves or buy locally. Nowadays, our food choices are endless.

The barrier of traditional mealtimes has been eroded and we can - and do -  eat anywhere, anytime.

In the century since the most honoured guest at a Victorian banquet might have been the person who brought a pineapple, we can now find tropical fruits and other exotic delights in every local supermarket, year round.

Modern nutritional and dietary therapy tend to focus more on ‘what’ to eat oftern with an equally dizzying array of superfoods and supplements to navigate.

Yet one of the core principles of Chinese dietary therapy is ‘how’ to eat. How we eat is of fundamental importance to our health - a fact known to Chinese medicine doctors which is now being supported by research.

17th century painting of Charles II receiving a gift of a pineapple from a loyal subject 

17th century painting of Charles II receiving a gift of a pineapple from a loyal subject 

How to eat - Quantity

Another Chinese proverb encapsulates all we need to know about the right quantity of food:

When eating, stop when you are seven tenths full

Sun Simao, one of China’s most celebrated 7th century doctors says of this:

“This is the special method of lengthening the years and ‘eating for old age’ and the utmost art of nurturing life”

Chinese health cultivation texts make many references to the importance of eating less, or put another way, stopping eating before you are full. The assertion by Sun Simao that this is  ‘special method’ for prolonging life is supported by research into calorie restricted (CR) diets.

Research into Calorie Restriction (CR)

CR diets have been used in laboratory studies to look at the effects of reducing calorie intake on health and longevity. In 1935, a study showed that rats who were put on a restricted - but nutritionally complete - diet attained ‘extreme ages’ beyond those of normally fed rats.

Another study in mice in 1986 found that for every degree of CR there was an associated increase in longevity. In other words,  the greater the restriction of their diet the longer the mice lived. The mice with the most restricted calorie intake lived half as long again as normal mice, reaching an average age of 53 months - the longest ever recorded lifespan of mice.

In humans, studies into the impact of CR on our own lifespan are showing  signs that CR can lead to beneficial changes to signs that predict serious diseases like cardiovascular disease and diabetes. These signs - known as biomarkers - show changes that include lower total cholesterol, lower levels of fats in the blood, lower blood pressure and improved blood sugar regulation.

Improved Brain Function through Calorie Restriction

Other studies have looked at the impact of CR on our brain function as obesity has been linked to a higher risk of dementia and rapid cognitive decline in the elderly. Obesity in young adults has been linked to a lower density of grey matter in certain areas of the brain. CR has also been shown to increase the growth of new neural pathways and learning in mice and reduce signs of brain-aging in primates.

Complete Nutrition

It is important to note that all of these studies of calorie restriction included a diet of complete nutrition i.e. only the amount of calories were reduced not the nutritional content.

The clear conclusion here is that we can be healthier if we eat smaller amounts, but these must be smaller amounts of highly nutritious food.

Obvious exceptions are in the sick and the elderly. When we are sick or elderly we may lose our appetite and become undernourished. These are times when we should really pay attention to eating more calories to recover or sustain our health.


This final point brings me to the topic of appetite. When I ask patients how their appetite is, the usual reply is ‘TOO GOOD!’ with a big sigh. This implies people are eating too much or too often. A healthy appetite means one where we sit down to eat genuinely hungry at set or regular meal times. Sitting down with an appetite means we will enjoy and savour our food.

If we graze through the day through stress, boredom or cravings we can end up ruining our natural appetite and enjoy our meals less.

Chinese wisdom on appetite says that we should arrive at the table hungry, and leave a little hungry too. Stick to the advice of stopping eating when 70% full. You’ll never have to count calories again and you might live longer to enjoy many more meals in the future.

Next week: How to Eat Part 2 - Regular Eating

Autumn Clinic Changes

Important Clinic Changes at The Oxford Acupuncture Clinic - Autumn 2017

This post details important changes at the clinic as a result of new ownership of our practice premises in November 2017.

If you are a regular patient at the clinic please read this information as it relates to booking, fees, appointments and reception hours.

Clinic Name

The new clinic has opened under the name ‘The Iffley Clinic’ and is owned by a team of practising Osteopaths. It will be offering Osteopathy, Counselling, Massage and Acupuncture. The decor and feel is lighter, fresher and more ‘clinical’. Staff are friendly, upbeat and efficient

To avoid confusion …. my practice name remains The Oxford Acupuncture Clinic which operates out of The Iffley Clinic.

Change of Rooms

The clinic rooms have been reassigned which means I am no longer using Room 4 - my usual home for the last 10 years with the lovely skylight.

I am now practising in two different rooms - Room 3 upstairs at the back of the building and Room 2 on the ground floor.

New Reception Team

There is now a a full time reception team Monday - Saturday from 9am-7.30pm.  Cindy, Anna and Suki are helpful, professional and seemingly very efficient.

They now hold and manage my diary so for scheduling and changing appointments you will need to contact them: 01865 251233  /

I’m pleased we have a full time reception team. It allows me to focus all of my time on helping you and means 100% of your appointment time is for your treatment rather than given over to any admin.

Online Booking Closure

Unfortunately, the new clinic system and my online booking system won’t talk to each other. Having live online booking via my website and and live booking at the clinic will lead to pandemonium (what a great word). booking will be shutdown for now. The machines are coming...but the humans are fighting back.

New Appointment Options

The way the clinic now charges me for room hire  means I can offer a wider choice of appointment lengths and fees. From now on the options will be:

30 minutes - £40.00

45 minutes - £50.00

60 minutes - £60.00 (New Patient or Double Appointment)

I will always suggest the best appointment length for you based on your clinical need. As a rough guide, if you are having regular treatment for an ongoing issue or for general health then a 30 minute appointment should be fine.

If you haven’t been to see me for a while; have something new to treat, have an acute issue or prefer a longer appointment to relax - I suggest coming for 45 minutes.

Card Charges

No-one likes this one … but after 4 years of free card payments I have decided to introduce a card transaction fee of £0.75. I make no money out of this fee. It all goes to the card company to pay for their next holiday. Cash, Cheque and BACS transfers are of course free of charge.

Your next appointment

If you would like to book a new appointment or change your existing appointment please email me or try out the new system by calling 01865 251 233.


If there is anything you are unsure about, or would like to discuss with me just drop me a line at

With gratitude,


Nourishing Life #1: Drink Hot Water

Nourishing Life #1:

Drink Hot Water : The easiest way to improve your digestion and energy levels

By far the simplest advice I can give to anyone with poor digestion or low energy is to switch to drinking hot water instead of cold. The benefits are obvious, tangible and immediate.

In China, drinking hot water is a given. Second nature to 1.3 billion people. Aside from drinking cold beer, you’ll find Chinese people avoid drinking cold drinks in favour of hot. Meals in China are often served with one dish that is a soup or broth so the stomach is warmed up ready to digest the food it is about to receive.

The rationale for this common sense behaviour is simple. Get ready to slap your own forehead.

Core Warmth

Our core body temperature is 37℃ which the body regulates by making and releasing heat through burning energy and sweating. We help ourselves by putting on clothes, turning on the heating or taking clothes off and opening the windows.

This is common sense and second nature to us all - correct?

Why then, would we choose to make life much harder for our body by pouring up to 2 litres a day of cold water into it? *

Cold Tap Water

Household taps dispense water at a chilly 7℃. Cold water cools our body down and requires that we burn more energy just to stay warm. In other words, by drinking cold water or other cold liquids you are slowing your metabolism down and making it harder for your body to function properly.

If you were a car, you would be driving with the handbrake on.

Forehead slapped? Here comes another one.

Smooth Muscle

Once we have swallowed our food we have the luxurious privilege of forgetting all about it until it comes out again and gets flushed away. We take this for granted and are blissfully unaware of our digestive tract silently working its magic.

Only when we get gurgling, pain and bloating do we stop and pay attention.

Our digestive tract - from throat to stomach to bowel  - is lined with ‘smooth muscle’. Smooth muscle contracts to propel food along and also protects our internal organs against the strong forces of these contractions. Like our other bodily functions smooth muscle needs to be warm to work at its best. You can see where this is going....

Imagine the feeling of diving into a swimming pool.

That sudden moment of shock where your heart ends in your mouth and all your muscles tense up.

“How’s the water?”

“It’s freezing!!!”

Actually it’s not. Most pools in the UK operate at about 28℃.

And your drinking water from the tap at 7℃ or milk from the fridge at 4℃. Ouch.N time your digestion starts complaining instead of asking,

“What did I eat?”

A better question might be:

“Did I just give my smooth muscle a nice warm bath or a freezing cold shower?”

Take the handbrake off.

Switching to hot water will likely be a revelation to you if you have poor digestive health, low energy levels or poor circulation.

But please, please don’t take my word for it. Try it yourself. Make the switch and take the handbrake off for 7 days. See what a big difference it makes when you help your body in such a simple way.

If you are full of energy  and have the digestion of an iron horse then please. please ignore this advice - you are clearly doing something right. Instead, share this with someone you know who might benefit.

With gratitude,


This article forms part of a series on 'Nourishing Life'. The series draws on traditional Chinese health cultivation practices, known as yang sheng, and aims to make them accessible and easy to integrate into a healthier lifestyle.


*For cold water you can read - smoothies, fruit juices, cold milk on cereal, ice cream , milkshakes, beer, coke etc.


Gratitude & Cultivation - An Open Letter

Gratitude & Cultivation - An Open Letter

Autumn is the season of letting go and slowing pace in preparation for the stillness and restoration of Winter. This makes it the perfect time to reflect on what we hold valuable in our lives and what we can choose to leave behind, in favour of cultivating something deeper.

This season also marks a change in the life of my acupuncture practice. The Oxford Natural Health Centre - home to my practice - closed its doors last month and has now been reopened as The Iffley Clinic. With the change of owners comes a new team, a new group of practitioners and a fresh direction for all.

Having 7 days off whilst the clinic was refurbished gave me ample time to reflect on the best aspects of my work to bring to the new clinic and what to leave behind with the old.

The themes I kept returning to were gratitude and cultivation.


My gratitude is for you. Without you - as a patient - I would not be able to be ‘an acupuncturist’ and without your trust and faith in my ability I would not have the chance to practice Chinese Medicine. For that opportunity I continue to be very grateful to you.  So thank you.


For me, cultivation is the art and tradition of ‘nourishing life’. This has long been the focus and practice of the best doctors of Chinese Medicine, known is Chinese as yang sheng. The yang sheng practice reminds us that good health extends beyond the physical. To stay healthy we must work towards enriching relationships, a fulfilling professional life, cultivating knowledge of self and an even state of mind.

The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic of Medicine - the most famous book on Chinese Medicine - puts this best:

“The sages did not treat those who were already ill but treated those who were not yet ill. They did not try to put in order what was already in disorder but tried to prevent disorder arising in the first place. Treating disease after it has arisen is like starting to dig a well when one is already thirsty, or only starting to cast weapons once the battle has begun. Would these also not be too late?” 

Medicine should be the last thing we need. We need instead to be our own sage and to learn to look after ourselves.

Nourishing Life every Friday

In the spirit of Nourishing Life or Yang Sheng, I’ll be sending an email out every Friday to share with you some tips to help you to nourish life and cultivate health.  My hope is that it will serve as a way to support your long term health and to ‘prevent disorder arising’.

The series starts with Nourishing Life #1: ‘Drink Hot Water: The fasteste way to improve your digestion and energy levels’.

My aim is to be able to run a series of workshops or seminars on the topics covered in the Nourishing Life series to make these practices and ideas available to you. Please feel free to share any of the ideas, tips or topics included with anyone you feel may benefit.

With gratitude,


Refer a Friend - Both receive a £25 Treatment Voucher

Have you benefited from treatment at the clinic? Would you like to refer a friend or colleague and both receive a £25 treatment voucher?

If you are genuinely pleased with the treatment you have received at the clinic please tell other people. We think we provide a great level of service but we would say that... it's much better coming from you.

As a thank you, we offer a Patient Referral Scheme which gives a £25 treatment voucher to you and the person you refer to the clinic. The voucher can be redeemed against any future treatment.

All we ask is that you remind the person you refer to mention you when they come to their first consultation.

Terms and Conditions

*Vouchers cannot be used in conjunction with any other offer

**To maintain patient confidentiality we will contact you via email to let you know you are in receipt of a £25 voucher as a credit toward your next treatment.

***Vouchers must be used within 6 months.

Claim £200 Cashback on Treatment with Simply Health


It sounds too good to be true, but Simply Health currently offer a Health Insurance Cash Plan which reimburses up to £200 for acupuncture treatment plus other major benefits.

It's so good in fact, that I have taken out a policy myself to cover my own treatment with my chiropractor, my optical and dental bills and free cover for my son.

I assure you.... I'm not on commission! A number of patients have been using this for years and I finally took the plunge in 2017 and it seems like a great scheme. If you find a catch please let us know.

Depending on the level of the plan you can claim up to:

  • £190 Dental Cashback
  • £195 Optical Cashback
  • £150 Chiropody Podiatry
  • £400 Diagnostic Consultations
  • £400 Overnight Hospital Stay 

Certainly worth investigating if you are the kind of person who likes to be pro-active about your health and wellbeing.

Quiet Medicine: The Alchemy of Chinese Tea

Lu Yu - Tea Sage and author of the Cha Jing - Classic of Tea

Lu Yu - Tea Sage and author of the Cha Jing - Classic of Tea

This article recently appeared in the British Acupuncture Council magazine entitled

'Quiet Medicine’- The Alchemy of Chinese Tea

I love tea. No - I really love tea. Not in a casual, admire from afar kind of way, but in a “I think I’ve met the woman I want to marry” kind of way. We all have a ‘thing’. The thing that lets us sync with the hum of the Dao and helps us make sense of our lives. For me that thing is tea.

Like you, I’m sure, I often feel blessed to be able to see the world from the perspective of Chinese Medicine. It is as if we’ve been given the key to a life more real, more tangible and more vivid than the world we knew before. For tea lovers it is just the same. There is much to say about flavour, aroma and taste but the real joy of tea arises when through the lens of Chinese Medicine we can make tea to bring out its energetic qualities known as ‘cha qi’.

The tea sage Lu Yu’s Cha Jing (Classic of Tea 770CE) which inspired tea culture throughout Asia,  opens with the line “Tea is a magnificent tree growing in the South” and today in Southern China tea is still used by indigenous people as a medicine, food and for spiritual communion.

Indigenous tea pickers in Dali, Yunnan harvesting wild tea leaves

Indigenous tea pickers in Dali, Yunnan harvesting wild tea leaves

As a beverage tea is a perfect expression of the five elements. Fertile soil (Earth) gives rise to vibrant tea trees (Wood), which are then plucked and added to pure Water heated by a charcoal brazier (Fire & Metal). This pure Daoist alchemy inspires poetry such as this from Kazuko Okakura in the Book of Tea:

“In the liquid amber within the ivory porcelain, the initiated may touch the sweet reticence of Confucius, the piquancy of Lao Tzu, and the ethereal aroma of Sakyamuni himself”

You may know that all tea trees actually come from a single variety - camelia sinensis. So in order for us to enjoy the ‘liquid amber’ another kind of alchemy is needed. Man must use his ingenuity to cultivate the trees and to process the leaves in harmony with Nature to bring out the tea’s potential. Each process gives us a different tea  - green, white, yellow, red, black, oolong or puerh - all with distinct ‘cha qi’ and medicinal properties.

When it comes to making tea, like herbs, the method of preparation affects the energetic quality of our tea. This is where as Chinese Medicine practitioners we get to perform our own act of alchemy - preparing tea to affect the qi of ourselves and our patients.

Elixir Living Teas - organic, biodynamic and wild-harvested teas selected for their health benefits

Elixir Living Teas - organic, biodynamic and wild-harvested teas selected for their health benefits

Some Green teas like Jade Stream prepared with cooler water have the rising Yang Qi of Wood, brightening the eyes and the mind; whereas others can be cooling and disperse downwards. Certain White teas, like Cloud Pass, brewed cold have a tonifying effect on Lung Yin; prepare them hot and they change nature to dry and disperse excess fluids. My personal favourite after lunch is an endless pot of raw or ‘sheng’ Puerh, like Yunnan Peak,  which keeps me bright and energised all afternoon as it clears the turbid Damp of overindulgence allowing the clear Qi to rise.

When we start to uncover the tangible ways in which this ‘quiet medicine’ can be used to help our patients and ourselves it is no wonder that this ‘magnificent tree growing in the South’ inspires such devotion amongst the ‘initiate’. Lao Tzu, Confucius and Sakyamuni? What a tea party that would be.

James Thirlwall is an acupuncturist and tea teacher. He works in Oxford and London and leads tea and medicine workshops for Chinese Medicine practitioners.