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Confused about expansion/contraction foods connected to yin/yang


I'm a beginner to understanding yin/yang and am having some trouble understanding how yin/yang are expansive/contractive respectively. When I think of yin, I think of dark, cool, inward, dense and yet yin foods are expansive, which doesn't make sense to me. I would think of yin foods as contractive. Similarly with yang, I think of light, warm, outward, sparse and yet yang foods are contractive.

It seems contradictory to me.

Can someone please help me better understand this?

Thank you!


By physics theory, hot thing is expansion, cold thing is contraction, hot is yang, cold is yin. So hot food is expansion, cold food is contraction.


Hi there

It&#39s not quite a simple as hot/cold or expansive/contractive, I&#39m afraid. Chinese Medicine uses food as therapy, not just as nutrition, so a lot does depend on the state of a body before deciding the dietary approach. So, a good grounding in medical theory helps. However, that&#39s not possible for most lay people, so it&#39s a good idea to just get to grips with yin/yang in the first place before applying it to food. The main challenge we westerners face is in realising yin/yang is not dualistic, it does not take an either/or approach as we tend to in western theory. It&#39s more about shifting energies within the forms themselves, as well as influence on each form.

In terms of food, a good place to start is Daverick Leggett&#39s book Helping Ourselves: A Guide To Traditional Chinese Food Energetics, which you can get from Amazon.This talks you through the various patterns found, and which foods correct them. Through that, it becomes easier to understand the subtle &#39dance&#39 that is yin/yang, and then how you can help yourself (as the title suggets) based on Chinese Medicine principles.

Good Luck!


My reading about diets islimited. But if yin foods are cold that means they slow your metabolism therefore lead to weight gain=expansion likewise yang raises metabolism resulting in not gaining or losing weight = contraction. Is not Chinese medicine energetic medicine?


Thank you for your replies, they are helpful. I have also come to learn that there different ways of categorizing cold/hot expansive/contracting yin/yang depending on the Japanese traditions and the Chinese traditions - which doesn&#39t really make things easier for me being a beginner :). So far I have been using the Self Healing Cookbook.

Thanks again!


It&#39s hard to know how to interpret sometimes, though. I&#39ve read several books on yin/yang food theories and such, but even the same book can be contradicting, and sometimes, my conditions just contradict the theory.

Such as I show tendencies towards cold, damp, heat, and dry. How can I have all?

Out of the list for those that have a tendency to cold, I have the following bolded tendencies:


Tendency to feel chilled

Urine tends to be clear

Dresses warmly, likes heat

Tendency toward loose

Pale complexion stools

Preference for warm food/drinks

Slow metabolism drinks

Soft, fleshy muscles

Rarely thirsty

Often tired
, sleeps a lot

Tendency to feel depressed

Health worse in cold pressed weather

Quiet, withdrawn

For damp, I have the following bolded:


Strong dislike of humidity

Stuffy nose, postnasal drip

Health worsens in dampness

Mentally “foggy”

Abdominal bloating

Retention of fluids

Little thirst
or hunger

Overweight, soft fat

Urine tends to be cloudy

Puffy eyes or face

Easily short of breath

Feeling of heaviness especially in lower body

Now for hot:


Tendency to feel warm

Tendency to be talkative

Uncomfortable in hot weather

Urine tends to be dark

May suffer fever blisters, canker sores

Dresses in short sleeves

Tends toward ruddy complexion

May suffer headaches, nose bleeds, bleeding

High blood pressure

Often thirsty, craves cold drinks

Sleep often restless, disturbing dreams

Tendency toward impatience, irritability or anger

May be constipated

And Dry:


Dry skin, dandruff

Cravings for sweets

Dry stools, constipation

Preference for warm liquids in small sips

Dry throat or eyes

Night sweats


Can easily become both hot or cold

Thin body type

Easily stressed, irritated or frustrated

Rosy cheeks, especially after exercise

So how can I show tendencies from each group at all times? It seems like because of the dampness in my body (including the beginnings of arthritis and too much mucus and phlegm, especially coughed up after some meals, that I should eat more warming foods, yet I seem to tend towards a more hot constitution in some ways, which would signal that I need more cold foods. I&#39m so confused.


Your confusion about yin/yang contracting/expanding is common. According to Chinese Medicine theory, yin is contracting, cooling, downwards etc and yang is expansive, heating, upwards etc.

However in Chinese Dietary Therapy the terms yin and Yang are rarely used to describe food as they are too broad - a more detailed description is used that covers temperature, flavour, route and actions - eg a food could be said to be Warm, Sweet, enter the Lung channel and Tonify Qi.

The confusion comes from the macrobiotic diet, where for some odd reason they decided to flip the Yin/Yang classification so yin means expansive and yang means contracting. If you&#39re reading a macrobiotic book, thats what they mean - if it;s Chinese Medicine (TCM) then your original thoughts (yin=contracting, cool etc) are correct!


Thank you neilkingham, that is so helpful!


I have struggled with the confusion between the Chinese tradition that yin is contracting and yang is expanding and the Japanese tradition that yin is expanding and yang is contracting. I have several good books on both traditions and I have read the posts here on this forum as well as many articles on the subject and I must say that I am just as confused as I was when I started. Who is correct? Is it possible that both are correct but are looking at the situation from different angles? Is one in reference to food and the other in reference to physics? I am very interested in and seem to lean very heavy to the Japanese explanation (yin-expanding, yang-contracting) and using that for how I eat and an understand of such, but in the back of my mind I keep thinking that the Chinese see this issue different and it seems to have a bearing on my confidence and lets some doubt creep in. Perhaps another post or two on the subject may be able to get me thinking this one through properly. Thank you in advance for any help and information you might be able to seen this way.



i have been thinking about this matter for weeks. i'm very happy to have found this discussion. i started yin/yang experience with macrobiotics and reading feng shui and other chinese books i couldn't understand why it was all reversed, and it made no sense to me. i don't believe in a strict macrobiotic diet but what kushi says about yin and yang create makes sense. maybe for chinese traditional medicine it was underlined the effect more than the properties: yin is expansive but provokes contraction, cold produces contraction. what is cold is hard. Thereby yang is contractive but causes expansion. I am trying to find where Ohsawa states out his choice.

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