France, Food, and … hot flashes?

Rhoda at the Louvre

Last month, I was lucky enough to go on a three week trip to France. Well, of course it was wonderful, full of delicious food, beautiful scenery, and interesting people. We stayed in a cute home with my boyfriend’s mother in the suburbs north of Paris, dropping into Paris itself a couple of times, the prettiest city in the world. Then we went west to visitNormandyandBrittany, and more friends and family. It was all so lovely, it’s hard to pick out a few things, but the highlights were: Monet’s house and gardens at Giverny; the Mont Saint-Michel and the walled city of Saint Malo; and bicycling on an island off the coast of Brittany called L’Ile de Brehat. I’ve included a few pictures for your enjoyment.

Everywhere we went, we of course ate some of the most incredible food, a big part of French culture. Everyone wanted to “wine and dine” us, literally breaking out the bottles of wine and the richest food in creamy sauces, always finishing with sumptuous cheeses, and often dark black coffee.

My only difficulty with this seemingly idyllic situation was that I am going through the process of perimenopause, and so have become prone to some occasional hot flashes at night, mild, but they often do wake me up. I can usually keep them under control at home, with herbs and acupuncture and a healthy diet. Traveling was more of a challenge. I had only brought a couple of general herbal formulas in pill form, and had forgotten to bring needles home from work, so had only the ten that were in my purse. I had to pay much closer attention to my diet and lifestyle to keep them at bay and get a good night’s rest.

Being on vacation helped. After the initial couple of days of long plane ride, sitting around visiting, and jet lag, I was able to walk every day and relax. Diet was a tough one. Long story short, I figured out that if I kept it to either half a glass of red wine or half a cup of strong black coffee per day, and took my herbs and got exercise, I didn’t get hot flashes. As soon as I had more wine or coffee than that, the hot flashes came back.

Why is this? According to Chinese Medicine, both these foods are very warming. As we enter the perimenopause time, our Yin aspect is declining, which represents fluids, hormones, blood, and the cooling aspect of our bodies. Yang, related to activity, air, and the warming aspect of our bodies, often does not decline as much yet, so in relative excess. Without as much Yin to balance it, it’s easy for Yang heat to flare up in a variety of ways, including hot flashes, headaches, upper body rashes, tooth decay, dizziness, and high blood pressure. So, unfortunately, for a period of time in mid life, for both men and women, it becomes more important to limit warming foods such as alcohol, coffee, spicy food, beef, and lamb. If at some point later in our lives the Yang aspect becomes more deficient, then we can add them back in.

The exact amount you can tolerate may differ from person to person. I figured out half a glass of wine or coffee worked for me while I was on vacation. Since I’ve been home, and busy and stressed out with changes going on at the office, I can’t do any wine or coffee at all. Experiment, and see what you come up with!

Becoming an Acupuncturist

People always ask me how it is I became an acupuncturist.  Chinese people ask pretty quickly, other people ask eventually.  I feel like answering in Dr. Richard Tan style (a famous and slightly eccentric acupuncturist), “How the hell should I know?”  I do always say, well, I sure didn’t know that’s what I wanted to be when I grew up, never heard of acupuncture when I was a kid.  It almost seems like a process of elimination. 

I did consider becoming a Western Medical doctor at one time.  Seeing what that was about totally turned me off, though.  As a teenager, I worked as a candystriper one summer in the hospital where my Mom was a nurse.  Yes, I even wore one of those red and white striped outfits (to my current horror!)  Bringing the candy cart around to patients was fun, helping new parents bring their baby to the car was the best.  I saw all kinds of sick people, and I did enjoy helping them, but I also saw how the Western MD’s behaved.  That part I didn’t like.  Now, I know there are many kinds of doctors, but it happened that at that time, most of the MD’s I was seeing were men in white coats who breezed in, barely looked at the patient, looked at the chart, gave a couple of orders, and left.  That didn’t really interest me, and I decided then and there that I didn’t want to be a Western Medical Doctor.  At that point, I didn’t know there was alternative medicine. 

Since my high school biology teacher was fabulous, I still liked biology, so I went to college to study biology, thinking I would do research.  My experience with the pre-med students validated my decision not to pursue that course, and I did get a degree in Biology, with a minor in Chemistry.  But in college, you’re allowed to take electives, right?  Those electives started to turn me around.  It started with a class in Art History.  I loved it so much, I decided to take Asian Art History.  I loved that even more, and decided to take Asian Religion.  That was so cool, I went on to take more in-depth classes in Buddhism, and then Chinese History.  Through friends, I met a Tai Chi instructor, and got into that.  That instructor was an American, but he was learning Chinese from a man in town he had met, so I decided to do that to.  And so on and so forth.

After a while, I was so interested in Chinese culture, I decided to change directions.  Working in a lab had not proved too exciting.  Understanding another culture might allow me to help others understand each other and get along better.  I embarked on a path to get a Ph.D. in Anthropology, specializing in Chinese Culture.  Somewhere in the process, I did start hearing about Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture and Herbs, but I never tried them for myself. 

Well, grad school didn’t turn out to be all it’s cracked up to be, either.  Highly competitive and cut throat, it wasn’t the place for me.  Discouraged, I went back to working in the lab.  Finally, it was one of my lab mates who said, “Hey Rhoda, you have this interest in Chinese Culture, and a background in Biology, why don’t you study Chinese Medicine.”  Huh.  Why hadn’t I thought of that.  Good idea.  But I hadn’t even experienced it, so I went to the acupuncture school to get a treatment. 

My main complaint was PMS.  At the time, I got acne,  bloating, irritability, and a headache right before.  To my surprise, the needles were painless, and with a few treatments and a month of herb pills, by the next month, my symptoms were 50% improved!  continuing a couple more months, I no longer got headaches or acne, and the irritability and bloating were only minor.  I was impressed, and looked into what it would take to become an acupuncturist, a Chinese Medicine healer.

Well, the rest is history.  Within the next few years, I quit my lab job and started acupuncture school.  When I got to that school, I finally felt like I was right where I belonged for the first time in my life.  Fourteen years later, out of school and practising for ten years, I still feel that way.  I love what I do, and I’m right where I belong.