Thou shalt never read in bed again…

By Vera Resnick

Many practitioners struggle with the question of how much to limit patients in terms of diet. Patients ask quaveringly “does this mean I can never have coffee any more?” as they clutch cans of caffeine-laden Coca-Cola with whitening knuckles. Is Homeopathy intended to be draconian in food and lifestyle restrictions? Must I never read in bed again?

I decided to do the courageous thing, and face this issue head on.

Hahnemann set it out plainly in the footnote to Aphorism 260 (the list we somewhat shamefacedly avoid as we avidly read the Organon…):

“Coffee; fine Chinese and other herb teas; beer prepared with medicinal vegetable substances unsuitable for the patient’s state; so-called fine liquors made with medicinal spices; all kinds of punch; spiced chocolate; odorous waters and perfumes of many kinds; strong-scented flowers in the apartment; tooth powders and essences and perfumed sachets compounded of drugs; highly spiced dishes and sauces; spiced cakes and ices; crude medicinal vegetables for soups; dishes of herbs, roots and stalks of plants possessing medicinal qualities; old cheese, and meats that are in a state of decomposition, or that passes medicinal properties (as the flesh and fat of pork, ducks and geese, or veal that is too young and sour viands), ought just as certainly to be kept from patients as they should avoid all excesses in food, and in the use of sugar and salt, as also spirituous drinks, …”

And let’s not forget heated rooms, obscene books, and surrender to excess emotion…

But then Hahnemann indulgently adds:

“Some of my disciples seem needlessly to increase the difficulties of the patient’s dietary by forbidding the use of many more, tolerably indifferent things, which is not to be commended.”

Ah, that’s much better… really…

Boenninghausen’s article on The Homoeopathic Diet in his Lesser Writings, he notes that:

“As to diet, of late a certain indulgence has been granted, which is not always to be approved of, and where there is any doubt, it is surely better to be a little too strict than to be too indulgent, as experience has frequently shown that injuries caused by indulgence are difficult to repair.”

But then he swings in the other direction somewhat, saying:

“Homoeopaths have … been able to yield a good deal of late, which they had to forbid before… This is especially the case with chronic patients, who are forbidden, besides the actual medicines of all kinds, only coffee and strong tea, heating drinks, imported spices and strong odors, especially that of Camphor.”.

I reckon one glass of Gluhwein should cover it…

Boenninghausen then offers a list of the permitted and the forbidden – but cautioning that: “the exceptions permitted according to the nature of the disease and the homoeopathic medicines used is left most safely to the physician in charge; but whatever is printed in capitals… must usually be entirely avoided.” Note the use of the word “usually”. Still no absolutes here.

The foods in the list are fairly predictable – apart from the somewhat unexpected recommendation of pork fat for dry hair instead of pomade… Basically if it’s bland – it’s permitted. If it’s spiced or in any way interesting – it’s gastronomica non grata. Absolutely no coffee – but tobacco is allowed in…

But then – a further qualification of the issue, one that recommends not making drastic change in lifestyle:

“As a rule he ought to retain as much as possible his accustomed mode of living, in so far as this is not opposed to the express directions; he should sleep, eat and drink according to his desire, neither more nor less; he should not withdraw from any innocent social amusement; the endeavor should be to keep the mind as well as the body in as comfortable a state as possible, which furthers the cure more surely than any compulsion would do. He should seek to fill out his time as far as possible with light and pleasant employments.”

So if he’s an inveterate Gluhwein aficionado, who enjoys wearing Chanel No. 63… go for it? Reading “fifty shades of spiced chocolate” while reclining in a chaise longue? But I digress…

It’s important to clarify the nature of the Homoeopathic Diet recommendations – even when they are couched as prohibitions. Because Homoeopathy itself is based on an unchanging Law of Nature – Like cures Like – there is a tendency to believe that everything else mentioned is also a matter of principle. This is not the case. The diet and lifestyle are perhaps based on a principle of avoidance of excess, which reverberates through the Organon and Boenninghausen’s writing in this example. But beyond that – it’s all recommendation – not principle. And as Boenninghausen notes – the physician in charge is really the one in the best position to make those decisions.

So perhaps homoeopathy patients can enjoy cinnamon and chocolate in their coffee, and parsley and celery in their soup? I hope so…

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