Nourishing Life - The Daoist Path to Health
Practitioners of Daoism have always understood the importance of food and how it affects the body. Ge Hong wrote extensively on the affects of food and herbs on the body.
As mentioned elsewhere Daoists viewed the pre civilisation period as a golden age. “Zhuangzi praises that idyllic age with these words: ‘Spirits and gods show their good will and nobody dies before his time’” (Levi 1982). put simply the belief was that the advent of agriculture tied people to the land and for most servitude. It was recognised then that the diet endured by most people was damaging to both their health and their spirit.
This view is expressed in this passage: Ancient man imbibed dew” and “fed on primordial breath and drink harmony” and ate not the toilsome, vulgar crops of the red dust that are exemplified in the Five Sacred Grains (wuku).” (Dannaway, Frederick R. (2009)Yoked to Earth).
Ge Hong wrote on his observations of those who undertook BiGu:
I have personally observed for two or three years men, who were foregoing starches, and in general their bodies were slight and their complexions good. They could withstand wind, cold, heat, or dampness, but there was not a fat one among them.
I admit that I have not yet met any who had not eaten starches in several decades, but if some people cut off from starches for only a couple of weeks die while these others look as well as they do after years, why should we doubt that the (deliberate) fasting could be prolonged still further? If those cut off from starches grow progressively weaker to death, one would normally fear that such a diet simply cannot be prolonged, but inquiry of those pursuing this practice reveals that at first all of them notice a lessening of strength, but that later they gradually get stronger month by month and year by year. Thus, there is no impediment to the possibility of prolongation.
All those who have found the divine process for attaining Fullness of Life succeeded by taking medicines and swallowing breath; on this they are all in perfect agreement. A moment of crisis, however, generally occurs at an early stage when medicines are being taken and starches abandoned and it is only after forty days of progressive weakening, as one uses only holy water and feeds solely on breath, that one regains strength. (Ware 1966:246-7)
Interestingly in recent years fasting has returned to prominence as people seek ways to overcome the ill health epidemics that are rampant across the industrialised world. People are beginning to understand that not everything on the shelf is good for them and the immediate availability of food on every street and location is presenting a challenge to our will power.
Quite simply modern life is killing us with kindness. The fact is most diet schemes including those supported by mainstream health professionals, national health services and most multi million pound diet companies work on restricted calorie consumption schemes and analysis shows that between 85% and 95% of them fail in the long term. Which is of course great for business, they take your money and tell you your previous failure was your fault and it’ll be OK this time! They will then guide you onto another calorie restriction diet based on the food pyramid that you can see on this page. A concept built on a totally bogus and long since rejected study of healthy eating called the Seven Countries Study. The study was in part funded by the American sugar and grain growing industry, guess what? They found that sugar and grain should be the basis of a healthy diet! Who’d have guessed!
The truth is, the world’s obesity epidemic is a direct result of that dietary advice and frustratingly the truth about the effects of high carbohydrate diets has been known to western science since 1915 and to Daoists for over 3,000 years. Simple carbs based upon grains cause weight gain and over a longer term create a condition called ‘insulin resistance’. This condition sits at the root of type 2 diabetes, fatty liver, obesity and many others.
The solution to this is not complex and does not require expensive foods, supplements or equipment. Quite simply the body’s natural state is one that can be described as having Metabolic Agility, that is to say your body should be able to shift from a food surplus - fat making state to a food deficit - fat using mode with ease and without discomfort. This is the way humans evolved with unreliable food supplies. Our stable food on demand society is thousands of years ahead of our evolution, add to that the abundance of processed high sugar / fructose foods, it’s not surprising we’re struggling to fit into our pants never mind live into old age without chronic illness and disability. BiGu is part of the solution.
Ge Hong 284 – 364 C.E.
The Food Pyramid