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The Importance of a Healthy Relationship with Food

A healthy relationship with food is the foundation of good overall wellbeing. Learn why this is important and how to get started on your journey.

A top view of an assortment of fruits arranged on a wooden board with a child’s hands grabbing some strawberries.

Humans need relationships to live — quite literally. This includes a healthy relationship with food.

Referring to our connection with food as a relationship can seem strange if you’re unfamiliar with the concept. Many people don’t think they have an affinity with food, but it may be more important than you realise. 

Why? Food encompasses many aspects of our lives, including our moods and overall well-being. It brings us together in social settings and can be tied to memories and emotions. This connection also means making a conscious effort to eat a variety of food that is fresh and nutritious. 

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) also believes in this concept. Let’s explore the importance of having a positive relationship with food and learn some tips to start your journey. 

Why is a Healthy Relationship with Food Important?

A young woman sits at a dinner table, holding a plate and fork in each hand, eating with a smile.
A healthy relationship with food brings balance to the body and mind.

Proper nutrition and eating habits are an integral part of TCM. As with all its aspects, the TCM diet is holistic in its approach. It means more than simply making the right food choices as it considers your ability to digest and assimilate foods too.

Eu Yan Sang TCM Physician Kwek Le Yin reveals there are three reasons why it’s important to have a healthy relationship with food in TCM. 

1. It affects the body both physically and mentally 

The food we eat daily affects our physical and mental health. A healthy diet contributes to a sound body and mind. On the contrary, not paying attention to what you eat can lead to obesity and cause fatigue.

2. It balances the body 

TCM views food and medicine as originating from the same source – a concept called yao shi tong yuan (药食同源). Like medicine, food is believed to have healing properties, albeit in a much lower concentration than herbs. As a result, it takes longer for food to bring the body back to equilibrium.

At the same time, medicine can also put your body in an imbalanced state if not consumed in moderation (overdosage). It’s why it’s crucial to maintain a healthy relationship with food. 

3. It improves overall wellbeing 

TCM believes a healthy relationship with food can nourish your Spleen and stomach. It can improve the organs’ physiological functions to transform food into nutrients, which is transported along with water to other parts of the body.

Physician Kwek explains an unhealthy relationship with food can result in metabolic disorders, as well as bloating, fatigue, and watery stools due to a weakened Spleen. 

TCM Views on Food

A close-up image of Chinese tea leaves being placed inside a teacup.
Brewed Chinese green tea and white tea are cool in nature and can reduce body Heat.

In TCM, the saying “You are what you eat”, rings even truer. What you eat directly affects your body. Physician Kwek explains that TCM believes food, like herbs, has different natures based on their effects on your body. 

According to TCM, food can be classified into five natures

  • Cold 
    Green beans, bitter gourd, lotus root, konjac, water spinach (kang kong), winter melon, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplants, Chinese radish, celery, water celery, lettuce, pear, bananas, sugarcane, mulberries, watermelon, pomelo, crab, clam, kombu, and seaweed.  
  • Cool 
    Wheat, barley, red beans, tofu, winter melon, cucumber, tomato, eggplant, chinese radish, celery, water celery, water spinach, lettuce, apple, lemon, strawberries, mango, coconut, pork, duck eggs, milk, Chinese green tea, and Chinese white tea.  
  • Neutral 
    Rice, corn, sweet potatoes, potatoes, soybeans, black beans, pumpkin, carrots, spinach, Chinese cabbage (大白菜), kale, orange, grapes, pineapples, mushrooms, black fungus, white fungus, bird’s nest, pig trotters, chicken eggs, quail eggs, and oysters.  
  • Warm
    Glutinous rice, Chinese chives, coriander, onions, spring onions, peach, cherry, pomegranate, lychee, chicken, beef, pig’s stomach, prawn, Chinese Red tea
  • Hot 
    Lamb, chili, durian, pepper, and dried ginger.

“Food is classified into Cold, Cool, Neutral, Warm, and Hot according to their effects on the body. Food that can raise the body’s inner Heat is Warm or Hot, with Warm and Hot differing just by extent. Conversely, food that can reduce Heat is Cold or Cool food, with Cold and Cool differing just by extent. 

Regulating your body can be done by consuming foods with certain Hot or Cold properties that counter the nature of your body’s constitution to achieve balance and maintain a healthy state.” 

Eu Yan Sang Physician Kwek Le Yin

As mentioned in the ancient Chinese medical text Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, Cold symptoms should be treated by Heat while Cold should remedy Hot symptoms to achieve a balanced state. 

Heaty symptoms include sore throat, cough with yellow phlegm, ulcers, increased appetite and thirst, and a warm feeling. Meanwhile, Cold symptoms include cough with watery phlegm and feeling cold easily.

To know which kind of food to eat and avoid, see this table below: 

Body Constitution Food to Eat Food to Avoid 
Yin Deficiency 
Yang Deficiency 
Qi Deficiency 

How to Build Your Relationship with Food

Asian parents having breakfast with their young son in a kitchen.
A healthy relationship can prevent you from overeating.

According to TCM philosophy, one of the golden rules of health is never to take the extreme route. A balanced diet, where food is consumed in appropriate combinations based on their natures and flavours, supplements the essence that the human body needs. 

Physician Kwek suggests incorporating the following principles into your everyday life to create a healthy relationship with food. 

  1. Eat at regular hours 
  2. Eat moderately; no more food once you feel like you are 70% full 
  3. It’s better to eat more often in smaller portions  
  4. Only consume properly cleaned food 
  5. Limit your intake of processed, oily food, and junk food 

How do you maintain a balance? The general rule is to bring your body back to equilibrium and listen to what your body says. “By paying more attention to how your body feels, it can provide a direction on what to eat and avoid,” Physician Kwek notes. 

Your food choices and the relationship you nurture or abuse will affect your body, mind, and emotions. For these reasons, paying attention to your connection with food is imperative. A great relationship with nutritious food can develop, just like your relationship with people, by constant tending to and frequent check-ins.

Have a tip about building a healthy relationship with food? Share your experience by leaving a comment below.


  1. Health University of Utah. 2023. Seven Reasons Why Loving Relationships are Good for You.  [Accessed on 29 March 2023] 
  2. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2020. Nutrition and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM): a system’s theoretical perspective. [Accessed on 29 March 2023] 
  3. Sydney Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine. How the 5 flavours of TCM & whole foods influence better health. [Accessed on 29 March 2023] 
  4. Clinical Nutrition Experimental. 2018. Food therapy and medical diet therapy of Traditional Chinese Medicine. [Accessed on 29 March 2023] 
  5. The journal for nurse practitioners. 2010. Promoting Optimal Health with Traditional Chinese Medicine.  [Accessed on 29 March 2023] 

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