How Your Food's Energy Affects Yours with Holistic Health Coach, Joanna Townsend



When you think about food, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Fat content? Nutrients? Pure satisfaction?

While these things dominate the conversation about food in the West, there is a much more holistic approach to food and life practiced in the East. This method can not only offer insight into how food impacts your mind, body, and spirit, but also help you build a stronger sense of health and well-being.

It has to do with energy. But not calories or kilojoules.

Steve Gagné, author of The Energetics of Food, explains how all foods have unique energy, depending on composition, where and how it grows, as well as how it is prepared. These properties influence how food will interact with you and how you experience it.

So, how does it work?

According to the ancient principles of Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), food exists on a continuum, from “yin” to “yang.” Where any given food falls on that continuum depends on its effects on the human body.

“Yin” foods have a cooling effect on us. They are considered to have a lighter energy – think dairy products, sugars, spices, oils, coffee, and alcohol. These elevate our mood, temporarily, but in excess too much “yin” foods end up draining us, causing lethargy and depression.

“Yang” foods, on the other hand, are warming, have dense textures and more sodium, and include things like conventionally raised red meat and poultry, hard cheeses, and eggs. These foods have a strengthening effect on us, but when we have too much of them their rigid energy can make us feel overly animated, anxious, tense, and reactive – kind of like the hormone-pumped animals these foods come from.

With food, as with life, the goal is harmony. Just as we can satisfy our hunger for life from healthy relationships, a fulfilling career, physical activity, emotional well-being, and a spiritual practice, we need to seek the same nourishment and balance from food. So along with all of the aspects of your life that fill your soul, most of us actually need to eat both yin and yang foods in order to achieve optimal health.

According to this method, the best way to care for ourselves and find balance by eating foods towards the center of the continuum. This includes eating a variety of local fruit, nuts, leafy greens, seeds, root vegetables, sea vegetables, beans, whole grains, healthy oils, wild-caught fish, and grass-fed meat. These foods balance the body’s energy, being neither too “yin” or too “yang,” and also offer quality nourishment.

Take leafy greens, for example, which grow above the soil and reach up to the sun. Having been exposed to the environment -- to wind and rain and sunshine -- they can contribute to a sense of creativity and open-mindedness. Whereas root vegetables, whose roots are literally rooted in the earth, like sweet potatoes, carrots, or beets, are grounding and can help balance you if you are needing centering and rooting in your own life.

Understanding food energetics can not only help you eat according to your energetic needs, but also help you deconstruct your cravings. If you find yourself craving sweet or salty foods, this is actually an indication of imbalance of yin or yang. This is because foods on either extreme, naturally, trigger a desire for an opposing food in search of balance. Keep in mind, though, food energy is it not a one-size-fits-all approach. You have a unique body composition and personality, so it’s important that you eat according to the foods that complement you.

– Joanna Townsend

Joanna is a licensed therapist, holistic health coach, foodie, and wellness advocate. Born in Mexico City and with an early upbringing in New Delhi, new cultures and foods were part of the fabric of her childhood. She holds a Bachelor’s in Psychology from the University of North Carolina, a Master’s in Clinical Social Work from New York University, and is currently a health coach candidate from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Joanna's mission is to help others lead energetic and fulfilling lives. She approaches wellness with the understanding that we all have an integral body and mind connection that serves the basis for quality of life. Nutrition, mindfulness, self-care, and self-love are parts of her solution. As a health coach, she believes that when our bodies are nourished, energized, and healthy, our minds feel balanced and stable. 

Image c/o Joanna Townsend, drawings by Bernita Ling