Happy New Year’s! As I sit and write this on the morn of New Year’s Eve, I see my Facebook feed flooding with “resolutions.”
We know the drill. Every year, people make the same promises to themselves. To get a better job. To stop smoking. Spend less. Spend more time with family. Get fit. And the topmost popular goal for New Year’s across the board: Lose weight.
The sad thing is, most people never make it past the first week of the new year in pursuit of their lofty, well-meaning goal. And it’s not our fault, generally.
Because the odds are stacked against us from the start.
I’ve been noticing the changes. A few weeks ago while thumbing through a cooking magazine, the only recipes that sounded palatable were soups. My partner has been looking at my salads with disdain and has been seeking solace in the warmer, heartier dishes like chilli and stir fry’s. I’ve been eating cheese by the fistfuls, and my hunger has been literally insatiable these last couple of weeks.
So, what’s going on?
You may laugh at us in the desert when I say that my body knows winter is coming after only a few nights of 70-degree temps. But after about six months of nighttime lows hovering around 95, that’s a noticeable difference. The changing of the seasons – the cooler weather, the fewer and fewer minutes of daylight – is already upon us here in Arizona, despite days still soaring to about 100 degrees.
I don’t think I’ve ever been that aware of my hunger cycles as I have this past year. At first, I didn’t know what my problem was this week. My stomach always had this itchy hunger sensation. I would throw a few berries or a tortilla or three at it to satisfy the sensation. But of course, knowing that an abundance of carbs like that turns to fat, I have been really keeping a tight lid on that.
But then I thought – why should I??
That is a learning curve we women must face as the summer descends into fall. One of our bodies’ most natural response is to jack up our hunger hormones in fall, so that we eat more. Why?
Because whether we like it or not, ladies, fat is our friend in the wintertime. I know it is mine. I cannot handle cold well. In fact, in wintertime I am just about a ball of ice. I huddle underneath a blanket every chance I get. Fat is our body’s natural insulator and our bodies have, over time, instinctively developed a craving for fats and warm, hearty foods. Out in the wilderness, we’d be suffering through lean times as plants died for the winter. Our fat would not only keep us warm, but be our body’s slow burning source of fuel to keep us going without the sweet sugars of warmer days.
And so denying this instinct is like denying a very real piece of ourselves as a living creature. Eating for the lean winter is what we’re designed to do. Personally it’s been frustrating, but understanding where my body is coming from has made the transition easier to bear.
But alas, I know I don’t speak for all women when I say I can afford to put on a couple of pounds. And heaven knows, modern society no longer experiences those ‘lean’ winter months. So how do we adapt?
If you look at some of the older, more ancient methods of health such as Ayurvedic or Traditional Chinese medicines, they address how to change with the seasons. Of course, some of this also depends on your constitution as an individual with these more holistic approaches to food and wellness. But I find a very large kernel of truth in these medicinal modalities, as they had developed in a time when human lives closer mimicked that of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.
Considering Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), eating warm foods helps keep our immune system up to snuff as cold weather swoops in. As Allie Chee writes, “Continuing to eat foods with a ‘cold’ energy (salads, raw foods, frozen or iced drinks) will tax the immune system as it works overtime to warm the body. A few results of too much cold in the body are dread of cold, joint aches and pains, cold and sore lower back, and frequent colds and flu.”
Spicy hot foods aren’t suggested, either. As I wrote in a former post, hot spicy foods promotes sweating, and helps bring our blood to the surface, so that it can let out heat and cool the body’s core. So when it’s cold outside, eating to promote heat elimination is the opposite of what we want to do.
To satisfy our body’s natural, seasonal cravings, Chee suggests we back off on the fruits and instead add a little more protein to the diet such as beef and lamb, chicken, turkey and salmon.
Alternatives to fresh, cold salads are inwardly warming spices (e.g., cinnamon, cumin, or cardamom), and foods and herbs such as garlic and onions, parsley, or basil. TCM also recommends more intake of root vegetables and leafy greens, aduki and black beans, buckwheat, oats, quinoa, winter squash, pumpkin, walnuts, and lightly and naturally salted foods such as sea salt, kelp, and sea vegetables.
Again, we are not going hog-wild on the meats, nor the fat. It’s all in moderation. We are designed to eat to take the edge off hunger – or simply until we are “no longer hungry” – and not to eat until we can’t eat any more.
TCM also suggests backing off on the fruit juice, raw salads, soy milk, and tofu.
Ayurveda, an ancient traditional Hindu system of medicine, has similar suggestions. But Ayurveda is based on the idea of balance in bodily systems and uses diet, herbal treatment, and yogic breathing. Body systems are broken down into “doshas,” or simply put, body energies and constitutions. The doshas are vata, pita, and kapha.
Fall into wintertime season is associated with the vata dosha, which is characterized by dry, cold and rough (both in our own bodies and in the environment). Because of this, oily, warm, and heavy foods are recommended.
According to one website, Ayurveda favors the following dietary alterations for the wintertime:
Warm foods and drinks, unctuous sweet, sour and salty
Grains like oats (cooked), rice, wheat
All dairy products (including ghee)
Natural sweeteners like whole cane sugar, molasses, honey
All oils (good unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats like olive, canola, peanut, sesame oils)
Sweet fruits like grapes, cherries, peaches, melons, bananas, avocado, coconut, apricots, dates (apples and pears if cooked)
Drinking warm water at regular intervals in a day can also help balance the Vata element, too. So keep the herbal teas coming!
As you can see, the wisdom of the ages has been taking note of our natural rhythms. While both TCM and Ayurveda are highly influenced by their individual cultures, weather patterns, and available food sources, they have a few things in common related to seasonal nutritional needs. We seek warming, cooked foods like soups and stews to stave off the cold climate, therefore not taxing our bodies with keeping up our body temperature. We crave nuts and seeds and oils to satisfy our desire for fats (the healthy kinds!) to insulate ourselves. And we favor starchy vegetables, full of sugars that turn to fat in our bodies as our metabolism naturally slows for the season, and we move around less, sitting at home watching the inclement weather outside.
So honor your body this season, and honor your needs. Eat seasonally. This month in Arizona, the foods in season are: Arugula, basil, bok choy, broccoli, carrots, corn, dates, figs, green beans, green onion/scallions, herbs, Key limes, lettuce, potatoes, pumpkins, radishes, spinach, squash (winter), sweet peppers, tomatoes, and turnips.
For a list of more local Arizona foods by season, visit Fill Your Plate’s website.