Psychology Department

Health Psychology Home Page

Papers written by students providing scientific reviews of topics related to health and well being

Search HomeWeight LossAlternative Therapy | Supplements | Eating Disorders | Fitness | Links | Self-Assessment | About this Page |


Macrobiotics: A way of Life

Loulie Gillen






Macrobiotics is not just a diet, but a holistic approach to living that takes into account all aspects of human life, including the inter-relationship between body, mind and spirit. Macrobiotics stresses the importance of a balanced diet because one's diet creates the foundation for a happy, healthy and harmonious life. Macrobiotic philosophy teaches practitioners to lead a balanced lifestyle based on the Chinese yin-yang principles. The actual macrobiotic diet closely resembles a vegan-like food pattern with virtually no animal food consumed. Practitioners also avoid "nonorganic" or "processed" foods.

The macrobiotic movement has become increasingly popular during the past decade due to various survival stories from chronically ill persons who used the macrobiotic way as an alternative approach to medicine.




The "Process of Disease" explained through the seven stages of symptomology is the basis of macrobiotic theory with regard to people's eating habits and its effect on the human body. Macrobiotics applies yin-yang principles to explain the relationship between food and the human organism and a balanced diet. Macrobiotic philosophy defines a healthy person using three natural life processes as criteria: urination, bowel movements and breathing. When the body ingests toxins, as a result of an unbalanced diet, its natural healing process produces abnormalities in one or all of these three life processes. Most people naturally react to the situation by taking medicine to relieve the symptoms. According to practitioners of macrobiotics, the ingestion of pharmaceuticals only inhibits the body's ability to heal itself, therefore, causing an accumulation of toxins in the body and thus, intensifying the disease.

The seven stages of symptomology begins with Stage One, which symptoms begin with 'abnormal discharges,' such as constipation, and progresses through Stage Seven. Stage Two represents the accumulation of toxins in the body as the symptoms of the disease worsen. In Stage Three the body is affected mentally physically, emotionally and spiritually. Stage Four leads to the malfunction of organs and Stage Five signifies the contamination of the blood. The Sixth Stage is when the body disposes of toxins in special sites that the medical world refers to as tumors, which is also known as cancer. The Seventh Stage is the final stage and is described as the stage of "return," signifying one's return to the spiritual world.

Since the macrobiotic way uses the "process of disease" as one of its main philosophies, practitioners believe there is only one disease- 'living out of balance with nature and cosmos.' Therefore, macrobiotic theory critiques the practices of conventional medicine because its search for cures is futile since there is no disease. Practitioners of macrobiotics explain the transmission of disease is because the body is in a state of decay, thus, making itself a suitable host in which an organism can flourish. On the other hand, a healthy body is not a suitable host for an organism, and as a result, the organism would be destroyed or excreted.




The standard macrobiotic diet consists of various foods and cooking styles. Half of the suggested types of food to consume are whole cereal grains, such as brown rice and barley, which constitutes 50% by weight of the diet. Vegetables make up the next largest proportion of the diet, which is 20-30% by weight. Some examples of vegetables for daily use are green cabbage and broccoli. Examples of vegetables not recommended for regular use are potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant. It is also recommended that the vegetables be local and organically grown, with the majority being cooked. Suggested cooking styles include lightly steamed or boiled or sauteed with a small amount of unrefined, cold pressed oil. Soups and beans and sea vegetables equally make up the last two categories of the diet each weighing in at 5-10%. Recommended beans include azuki beans, chickpeas and lentils. Soups may be made from ingredients referred to in the other categories. Foods stressed to eliminate from one's diet for better health, include meat, animal fat, eggs, poultry and dairy products.

The balancing of specific foods is not the only important aspect of the macrobiotic diet, but as important is the manner in which the foods are cooked. Firstly, macrobiotic practitioners only use gas stoves, and, if convenient, it is preferred to use a wood burning fire to heat food. Fire gives energy, vitalizing the human organism physically, mentally and spiritually. Fire is also the foundation of human culture and civilization. The quality of water is an important part of cooking the macrobiotic way, too. Clean, clear, natural spring or well water is an important resource for macrobiotic cooking.

The tools and utensils one uses to cook is also a significant aspect to the macrobiotic way. Three essential items every macrobiotic kitchen must have is a gas stove, a pressure cooker and a high quality vegetable knife. Other items include wooden utensils, chopsticks, a grater, cast iron pots and a teapot. For more items essential to the macrobiotic kitchen click here.

"The individual and family that cooks and eats macrobiotically can become humble, strong, relaxed, open, healthy and vital, thus making the whole world in order; for when the family follows the natural order of things then the community, society, culture, ecology and economy is vital, creative calm and deeply reverent". (In The Kitchen)


The quote above illustrates the importance of the preparation of food the macrobiotic way. It also makes evident that the transition to a macrobiotic lifestyle begins in the kitchen.




The Kushi Institute is located in Becket, Massachusetts, and is the leading macrobiotic educational center in the world. People from around the world travel to the Kushi Institute for the ultimate learning experience of the macrobiotic lifestyle and diet. A day at the Institute consists of lectures, cooking classes, exercise and free time.

Michio and Aveline Kushi founded the Institute twenty years ago and have been the forefront of the macrobiotic movement for the past forty years. Michio Kushi is the world's best known macrobiotic philosopher and teacher. He expresses his belief that the macrobiotic way is the most ideal eating pattern.

There are other institutions like the Kushi Institution located world wide.




Many studies show how diet directly influences physical and mental conditions, therefore, it is difficult to discern if the macrobiotic lifestyle, rather than just maintaining a healthy diet, is necessary for benefits. Although there are many stories supporting the success of macrobiotics, there has never been a specific study targeting the macrobiotic lifestyle. Studies have concluded that the macrobiotic diet, itself, may improve one's longevity, but vegan and vegetarian diets share the same results (Weitzman,1998).

A study comparing the dietary characteristics of natives of China to natives of the United States strongly supports that the consumption of a low-fat, plant-based diet can prevent and may even reverse a wide variety of chronic degenerative diseases (Cambell,1982). This study also supports the macrobiotic diet, but infers nothing about the actual macrobiotic philosophy.

The bigger issue to discuss is conventional medicine versus alternative medicine. Any individual who practices a healthy lifestyle will reap benefits, but this does not necessarily mean they will then be invincible against cancer and other chronic illnesses.

So does macrobiotics protect one from all diseases? According to the macrobiotic philosophy, yes, but the conventional medical opinion would be no. Conventional medicine and alternative medicine are two totally different ways of thinking, therefore, it is impossible to compare and contrast them. It is like trying to get a point across in English to someone who only speaks Chinese.




Macrobiotics is not just a diet, but it is a belief in a certain lifestyle, therefore, it can never be tested scientifically. It would be similar to proving or disproving the existence of God. The macrobiotic diet proves beneficial, but is it really any better than a standard healthy diet? I, personally think it depends on the individual. For some the macrobiotic lifestyle may give them a different perspective on life, which would affect them physically, mentally and emotionally. Yet, it may not have the same effect on others, which in this case just healthy lifestyle choices would be sufficient.



Cambell, T.C., Parpia, B. & Chen,J. (1982). Diet, lifestyle and the etiology of coronary Artery disease: The Cornell China study. American Journal Cardiolog~v. 10B, 18T-21T.

Dwyer, J.T., Dietz, W.H., Andrews, E.M. & Suskind, R.M. (1982) Nutritional status of Vegetarian children: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 35(2), 204-216.

Furnham, A. & Forey, J. (1994).The attitudes behaviors and beliefs of patients of conventional vs. complementary (alternative) medicine: Journal of Clinical Psvchologv. 50(3), 458-469.

van Stavern, W.A. & Dagnelie, P.C. (1988). Food consumption, growth, and development of Dutch children fed on alternative diets: American Journal of ClinicalNutrition. 48 (3 Suppl), 819-821.

Weitzman, S. (1998). Alternative nutritional cancer therapies: International Journal of Cancer. 11(Suppl), 69-72.


Psychology Department

The Health Psychology Home Page is produced and maintained by David Schlundt, PhD.

Vanderbilt Homepage | Introduction to Vanderbilt | Admissions | Colleges & Schools | Research Centers | News & Media Information | People at Vanderbilt | Libraries | Administrative Departments | Medical 

  Return to the Health Psychology Home Page
  Send E-mail comments or questions to Dr. Schlundt


Search: Vanderbilt University
the Internet
  Help  Advanced
Tip: You can refine your last query by searching only the results by clicking on the tab above the search box
Having Trouble Reading this Page?  Download Microsoft Internet Explorer.