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Eating for Yin Deficiency

Acupuncture and herbs are wonderful for treating many conditions, but there's a lot you can do to help yourself through diet and lifestyle choices. Chinese medicine has a sophisticated understanding of the energetics of food, and understanding this can help you take better care of yourself. These articles are intended to give some 'quick and dirty' tips and recipes for an assortment of CM diagnoses. To learn more in depth, we recommend Healing with Whole Foods, by Paul Pitchford. A short guide to Chinese food energetics is Helping Ourselves, by Daverick Leggett.

- by Gryphon Corpus

yin yang.png

What is Yin Deficiency?

Even if you don't know anything about Chinese Medicine (CM), you've almost certainly heard of Yin and Yang. Everyone knows the symbol. Yin is the dark side, Yang is the light, each flows into the other, dies away and is born out of the fullness of the one that replaced it. Night and day, matter and energy, cold and hot. It's the most basic differentiation of things in the philosophy that underlies CM. Like Qi, we often talk about Yin and Yang as if they were substances, but they're really relationships, existing only in reference to the other. It's a fundamental concept of balance. 

So being Yin Deficient means that Yin is relatively less and Yang is relatively more. It's an imbalance in which there is more energy than matter, more heat than cold, more movement than stillness. 

Some signs that you might be Yin Deficient:

night sweats




dryness, especially of mucus membranes - dry cough, dry lips, dry skin, dry eyes, etc.

tendency to low grade fever

red face, especially the cheeks

hot palms, soles of feet, and chest

constipation with dry stools


cracked lines on your tongue, or a patchy, peeling tongue coating

What causes Yin Deficieny?

Everyone's Yin declines as we age; that can't be helped. But Yin Deficiency earlier in life is very common in our pro-Yang society. We're on the go all the time, rushing from one thing to the next, and when we get tired we fuel up with caffeine so we can go some more. All yang all the time. Yin is nourished by sleep, stillness, meditation, turning off the brain. The less of that you do, the more your yin becomes depleted. 

Yin is also drained when our internal heat is cranked up for a long time. One way this can happen is through a hot, dry diet, such as spicy food. It also happens as a result of long-term emotional repression. Your system naturally wants to move emotions through and release them, and if you push them down constantly, heat is generated by the ongoing effort to move an obstacle that won't move. This happens whether the suppression is an act of will or by means of medications such as anti-depressants. 

I like to think about the balance of Yin and Yang like a steak. Before the steak is cooked, it's all yin. There's no flavour, no excitement; it's just a lump of meat. Once you start applying heat (Yang), it brings out all the juiciness, activates the scent, turns it into something you want to eat. There's a place of perfect balance, just the right amount of Yin and Yang. But if you leave it on the grill too long, the juices start to cook off, and the meat dries up and becomes tough. That's Yin Deficiency. That's what happens to us when we heat ourselves too much and too long, through stimulants, over-activity, and repression. 

How to nourish Yin

Yin activities nourish yin: sleep, meditation, stillness. An afternoon nap instead of another cup of coffee to push through the slump. Of course that's not always possible, but if you're doing too much, think about what isn't essential and could be dropped. Which activities nourish you and which ones are just more running around? Going to bed with the sun is great for your yin. Even if you can't sleep, can you just lie there and be still? What would it feel like to rest until you're so deeply replenished you don't need to be in bed a second more? And meditation without a goal or a project. Not 'I'm meditating on a problem' but 'I'm meditating to connect with inner stillness, silence, and spaciousness.'

From the standpoint of diet, avoid too many spicy foods, and foods cooked by hot, drying methods, such as roasting. Eat cool, juicy things. Here's a list of yin-nourishing foods: 

Aduki Beans

Alfalfa sprouts







Black Beans

Chia Seeds


Coconut Milk






Kidney Beans

Lemon and Lime



Mung Beans

Nettle Leaves (available dry as a tea, or for the adventurous, harvest them from your garden and eat them steamed to take out the sting)












Sesame Seeds


String Beans

Sweet Potatoes




Water Chesnuts





Healing with Whole Foods, by Paul Pitchford

The Foundations of Chinese Medicine, by Giovanni Maciocia

Helping Ourselves, by Daverick Leggett

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