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Melissa’s Hot Food Experiment

  • December 13, 2021

I used to be cold all. the. time. Annoyingly so for me, and everyone around me. The thermostat in my house hovered between 72-74, I’d wear beanies indoors, my car’s heater would be jammed up to HIGH all winter long, and I needed a blanket for movies year-round. Today, my heat never goes above 66 during the day, I take a freezing cold shower every single morning, and walks with Henry in 20 degrees don’t faze me one bit. What changed?

A 30-day self-experiment, of course.

I’m famous for my self-experiments, from the Whole30 to “I’m not drinking right now” to talking to strangers to 30 days of cold showers. The Hot Food experiment was something I embarked upon more than five years ago, and as we roll into a cold, dark winter, it’s worth re-exploring. Let’s dive in, because it was (as all of my self-experiments are) GAME CHANGING.

It was March 2016 (around my birthday), and I’m heading out to dinner with my friend Ryan, who is also my acupuncturist. We’re debating where to go, and I suggested sushi. “Oh no,” he said, “We can’t do cold food right now. How about Thai?” I had no idea what he meant, but I love Thai, so I agreed.

When we got to the restaurant, I asked him what he meant by “cold food.” He replied, “It’s winter. You have to balance the cold weather with warm foods. Maintaining balance in the body is the foundation of traditional Chinese medicine, and one of the ways you do that is with the foods you eat.”

We spent the next ten minutes or so talking about these principles. Practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and other ancient healing practices have always used food as one of the ways to balance the body to help prevent and treat disease. In TCM, food is either warming or cooling, and eating warming foods in winter (or cooling foods in summer) is one way to stay in balance. In addition, the way you cook the foods makes a difference—foods that are cooked slow and long (like a chili, stew, or soup) are more warming than foods cooked lightly or quickly.

“Warming” your diet included cooking veggies instead of eating them raw; drinking hot tea or coffee instead of iced beverages; including lots of warming foods like ginger, cayenne, cinnamon, and black pepper; and getting plenty of protein. Turns out I was doing just one of those right—the last one. At the time, I ate nothing BUT cold foods. Tons of sushi, huge salads for lunch, plus lots of deli meat and tuna salad, not to mention the iced decaf coffees year-round, plus protein shakes and ice-cold waters I’d drink all day. I rarely had a warm anything!

Curious as to whether or not I could stop being “that girl” (the always-cold one), I decided to undertake a month-long hot food experiment. Here are the general guidelines I followed:

  • Hot coffee or tea only—no more iced. Water would be at room temp, not cold.
  • If I wanted “cold food” like a salad, I had to serve the protein or accessories (like my beverage) warm to balance the dish.
  • I’d thoroughly cook veggies by roasting or sautéing—no more raw.
  • I’d add some kick where I could in the form of hot sauce, cayenne pepper, or ginger

Honestly, this could be boiled down to just one thing—eat or drink warm things for the entire month of March… and that’s exactly what I did. I ate way less sushi and cold salads, opting to reheat dinner for the next day’s lunch instead. (If I did eat sushi, I’d drink miso soup and hot green tea with it.) I ate more soups, chilis, and slow-cooked meals than I ever had before. I’d still enjoy fresh greens, but my salmon or chicken on top would be freshly cooked and still hot. And my beloved iced decaf coffees went bye-bye in favor of hot.

I was so committed, I found myself at restaurants ordering a mug of hot water instead of drinking the ice water they set at the table. Literally, I’d say, “Please bring me a cup of hot water.” Maybe I’d squeeze some lemon juice in, but mostly, I’d just sip on it. Which was DELIGHTFUL on my empty stomach, to be honest, compared to dumping freezing cold ice water into it.

Two weeks in, I NOTICED A DIFFERENCE. I wasn’t freezing all the time. I was more comfortable at home in “normal” temps (meaning, houseguests were perfectly comfortable, and I was actually warm enough too). I didn’t dread getting out of bed in the morning, my car didn’t need to be an inferno, and my hands or feet weren’t blocks of ice after being outside for short stints.

By the end of the experiment, I just FELT better. I had more energy (maybe because I wasn’t shivering all the time), I felt more comfortable just existing in winter, and I was enjoying smoother digestion—something I didn’t even realize had been moving too fast for too long.

In essence, it really did change how I responded to cold, and I’ve taken the principles with me into the rest of my diet ever since. Today (mid-December) you’ll still find me eating lots of chili, slow-cooker soups, bone broth, and the ever-present mug of hot tea, happily existing at a thermostat temp of 66 degrees (letting it get down to 62 at night). In fact, I credit this month-long experiment with kicking off my “Melissa embraces the cold” journey, including Project Love Winter and my cold showers.

There are hundreds of years of tradition that say a warming diet can help everything from cold hands and feet to sluggish digestion and bloating to fluid retention and fatigue, but what if you could just be NOT COLD all the time? Take a look at your own diet and see if there are things you could switch up—maybe not even the things you eat or drink, but just the temperatures at which you eat or drink them. Could you add more warming foods to your body, and if so, what could that feel like? So simple, yet potentially so impactful.

I love passing my self-experiments on, so if you give this one a go, please do report back on Instagram in a few weeks! Now’s the perfect time to start, when we’re all heading into winter and would love to feel a little warmer on the inside.

XO MU

Kreatures of Habit Oatmeal