Living with 체

My stomach interpreted it literally when they said it’s “the second brain.” I’ve had a fraught relationship with food, my first love, all of my life. But then, as the cause of this condition is almost never the food, it might be more accurate to say I’ve had a fraught relationship with eating.

I don’t know how to translate ‘체’ (pronounced ‘cheh’). I call it indigestion because that’s how I learned it and it seems to make sense to non-Korean people. But I’ve researched indigestion, and it’s not that. I’ve read texts and spoken with medical professionals who define it more accurately, but if I had to describe it myself, I would say it’s food (sometimes even drinks) getting stuck in the pit at the center of your torso, just beneath the sternum, causing interminable and excruciating pain.



Symptoms include excruciating pain, to a level that prevents you from everything but writhing, pounding headache, body aches, and other flu-like symptoms. Causes can be as simple as a cold stomach and/or extremities or exposure to cold while eating, eating too quickly, or thinking too much about what I'm eating, or more complex and subconscious (mood, sensitivity to the environment, company, and/or situation, and/or other stressors). 

Living with 체 means thinking with the brain and feeling with the stomach. Whether or not I'll be able to digest a meal depends wholly on how at ease I feel at the time. Many people eat when they're stressed. You'd know I'm stressed when I'm losing weight; I'm physically unable to eat. In my freshman year of undergrad, with the stressor of a passive-aggressive roommate, I trained myself to overcome this thing that I had learned to live with. It required a lot of patience and compartmentalizing, but for a long time, I had overcome it. With all the changes in our lives once we'd decided to move abroad, though, it returned with more regularity, and recently, I had one of the worst 체 of my life.



While there doesn't seem to be a cure, there are methods that provide varying degrees of relief. I hate to vomit, but if I need to and am able to, I do as it provides the quickest and most complete relief. Then I sleep it off. Drinking carbonated beverages, massaging the pressure points on your hands and feet, and pushing down the pit can physically dislodge what's stuck. Heat, from a hot drink, heating pad, or hot bath, can help ease the physical, mental, and emotional tension. Unfortunately, sometimes, as was the case this last time, you have to suffer and just give it time. 


follow your gut

Being more aware of my emotions, eliminating stressors and incorporating stress relieving practices, exercising, keeping a food diary, and eating slowly have all helped me to manage and prevent 체. My best advice, though, whether it's caring for or preventing it, is to literally follow your gut. Trust what it's saying—if you're not enjoying your meal, stop eating it. If you feel it's not a good time or the right situation to eat, don't. After I have 체, once the pain subsides, I wait anywhere from 6 to 48 hours to assess the state of my stomach, until I decide I can handle food, and then I eat whatever I crave, regardless of what that is.