We live in a culture and time when we have so much available to us, yet we live in a place with seasons and very different temperatures throughout the year. Somehow with all our access foods from around the world and a lifestyle that keeps us going at the same pace year round, we’ve lost sight of the need to vary our lifestyle and diet according to the seasons.
Long ago, we didn’t have a choice as to what we ate and had no choice other than vary our diet to what was available. As much as that might seem like a bore, there is actually a lot of wisdom and healthy benefits to modifying our diet and lifestyle according to the time of year.
The different foods available in the various seasons offer unique nutrients and properties (like warming or cooling) according to when they are grown. They take on the characteristic of the season (winter squash and root vegetables are more warming than the summer foods like watermelon or cucumber). It’s nature’s way of balancing us out and keeping us strong. When we focus on local seasonally grown foods were really giving our body what it needs the most at that time.
And yet, we so often eat the same foods year round. More often than not, this looks like more cooling summer foods (fruits and vegetables like salad or foods grown in the tropics (a very hot and humid environment) like bananas eaten year round). When we do this over long periods of time, we can actually through our body off balance and make it work harder to stay warm or digest nutrients. A classic example of this is the frozen smoothie or glass of ice water in mid January when it’s -15 outside. Why would we put frozen things inside when we’re really just trying to stay warm?!
By changing our diet according to what’s available in the season and how we want to feel (warmer/cooler), we’re helping our body do it’s job easier.
The same with our lifestyle, we should be conserving energy in the winter and perhaps sleep a bit more (our own version of hibernation that plants and animals naturally do), but then when the warmer temperatures and longer days hit, it’s natural to have more energy to expend and have a more active energetic lifestyle.
So often we try to maintain the same schedule year round but it’s unrealistic and sometimes does us more harm than good when we try to push through instead of listening to the natural rhythms of our bodies and nature.
How to optimize your diet for Spring
Spring is a time where everything is coming back to life after the cold dormant winter. Generally we tend to spend more time cozied up inside trying to stay warm in the winter, but once spring hits we start to come alive again as things come back to life.
In Chinese Medicine the spring season is paired with the liver system. The liver system shows up in the eyes, the tendons and the nails. It also has a lot to do with our mood and movement. So when this system is out of balance you might see things like irritability, eye issues, tendon or muscle cramps or spasms. You might also get pain in your ribs, sigh a lot or just generally feel cranky. Women will often have PMS if their liver system is off balance. It really has to do with the ‘stuck’ pattern. Sometimes in the spring we can see these things get a bit worse. BUT, if we do some simple things to help balance and strengthen this system we can feel amazing and healthier all season long.
A very beneficial thing for the liver (particularly in the spring) is movement! We really want to get things moving again after the long (and cold!) winter – but easing into it is a good idea. So things like walking and spending time in the outdoors are great ways to ease into it. Anything that encourages that gentle movement and things coming back to life is great. But in moderation – you don’t want to go run a half marathon in your first run of the season. Easing into it is important.
The liver/gall bladder system shows up in the sides of the body and the inner legs. Yoga or stretching can be helpful – anything that gets into the sides of the body and the inner legs. Side bends or wide leg forward bends are great for opening up this system
Foods to highlight for spring:
GREENS (spinach, asparagus, green beans, dandelion greens etc.)
Spring is a time when all the new fresh greens are coming up. They are so nutrient dense and work directly on the liver system helping it detox and clear up all that heavy food from the winter. They also help to build and cleanse the blood and are great for detoxification of the liver, which is helpful after the heavier often richer foods of the winter.
Beets and beet greens
Why is this important?
Beets are also good for the liver system. They are also a little bit sweet which can help strengthen the digestive system and they also build the blood so great for women who need to build their blood. Beets also help to move the Qi energy and are slightly warm in property. We’re easing into the summer/hot months so having slightly warm foods and still lightly cooking our foods is important. The beets that are grown over the winter months have a slightly sweeter flavor which aids in digestion and because the soil is richer after the long hibernation, they are often more nutrient dense as well.
Why is this important?
Citrus like lemon or lime and vinegars are great for the liver system and really help to move the energy. They also help to break down fatty foods or congestion in the body which is particularly helpful after the heavier foods of winter as I mentioned before.
Try to make sure to still cook your foods, but only lightly, shifting away from the slow roasting of the winter. Try for a lightly steamed of flash cooking. Incorporating some raw and some cooked as the weather warms up is a good transition tip. Warming up your salad dressing (see recipe on previous blog) or sautéing peppers, asparagus or green beans and then putting it on your fresh greens are all great options.
Most of all, listen to your body. If you’re someone who has digestive problems like bloating or fatigue after you eat, looser bowel movements or have difficulty losing weight, you’re going to want to stick to cooked food in general to help your body digest easily. If you’re someone who’s hot all the time and seem to burn through food fast, you can probably tolerate more raw fresh foods. We’re all unique and understanding the messages our body is sending and adopting our lifestyle and foods to our particular state of balance AND to the seasons is one of the biggest gifts we can give ourselves.
So happy spring and enjoy all the beauty out there as things come back to life!