Eating With The Seasons

Cameron Bishop DAOM, L.Ac
Copyrighted. As seen in "Natural Awakenings" Magazine

Traditional nomadic humans roamed and ate what they dug up and killed along their migration pathways. Often repeating large circles connected with the seasons, they routinely defecated in the same areas which contained seeds they had consumed.  Upon their return the next season, they found their favorite plants growing in their latrines. With a little trial and error primitive farming was born and developed to the point that man could build more permanent shelters and settle down to develop culturally and technically. Slowly the wildlife in the area was hunted out and the nomadic ways lost. Dependence on farming increased. Through medical anthological studies of human skeletons, we can tell there was an increase in medical problems due to sedentary lifestyle and nutritional deficiency.

There are mild markers in our civilization that point to our age old seasonal eating. Consuming watermelon and lemonade in the summer are foods that cool the body. Apple cider in the fall is a traditional warming and balancing food.

Most of our seasonal eating has disappeared since the inception of refrigeration which has allowed us to transport and keep foods throughout the year and the global ability to import most foods year around.

What is eating with the seasons? How can it help us live a healthier lifestyle? Oriental Medicine classifies foods in many ways. The most common is to recognize the food has the ability to maintain ones temperature, cool it or warm it. For Example, most fruit cools the body. Therefore in summer fruits help you cool off. In the winter fruits may cool you off too much and make it harder to maintain your temperature. Everyone has a body temperature. If you are a hot person year around then fruit in the winter may not be a problem in Florida. However, if you tend to be cold and you live in Alaska fruits may make you more susceptible. Meats are usually very warming. Summer is the time to stop or reduce the amount of meat you consume, especially the more warming meats, such as lamb and beef.

The two most important seasons to be aware of your foods is spring and fall. Spring is the time for cleaning. A clean intestinal system allows for a cooler body, improved immune action and higher absorption of nutrients for growth. Spring is also the time the plants begin to bloom. The body too can make leaps of change catching onto the tide of your area exploding in growth. This can be physical, spiritual, mental and emotional growth.

Autumn is the time the body starts to switch to conserve. Our body wants to drift into the hibernation of winter. It is the time to reflect, conserve and store energy. Spring is the best time to start a weight loss program and winter the worse. You are going against the natural cycle of your body. Autumn is the time your body is the most susceptible to colds. It is a good time to strengthen the immune system and not the best time to push the body's endurances.

As fall draws to winter, it is the natural time for meditation, reflection and stillness. Big trees draw their sap from their roots to their trunk and humans too draw the energy deeper. Winter is the time for heavier foods, warming vegetables and meats. On a cold day, a good warm stew sounds good. Our stomachs are natural stew makers. Our consumption is processed in our stomach and dropped by the teaspoon into the intestines. To eat balanced and proper one can imagine you are making a soup all day long inside of yourself. Do vegetables, rice and meat perhaps sound good together mixing and slowly filling our body with nutrients as they are squeezed going through our guts? Or do pickles, ice cream, soda, cookies, and salad all mixed together sound like a good mix?

Winter ends and spring comes back around and the cycle begins again. While living in Japan, I worked in a school. When spring came they served hot tea and did not use the air conditioning. I thought they were crazy but they explained that your body measures its temperature through its core body and not the skin. Drinking iced water told the body that it was still cold. The body's long term interest is always to conserve energy and therefore would put on belly fat to keep itself warm. Even if someone is living in a hot climate, but drinking iced drinks, the body would still put on organ fat to protect it self. Some groups advocate drinking cold water in order to burn more calories but the amount is low and long term action of the body is not advantageous to weight loss. Drinking hot water or tea during the first couple weeks of spring actually helps the body to adjust itself to being cooler. The exception would be in the case of over heating when the body's core temperature needed to be quickly reduced.

Oriental Medicine classifies foods as to warm up the body and cool down the body but also to produce more phlegm or reduce it. In the fall one wants to have the healthiest of fluids in the body. These fluids include the lymph system, sinus system and other fluids of the body. Having the elimination pathways of the body clear to carry away pathogens and waste reduces the load on the body and allows it to prosper, warding off disease and aging.

Long term if the body is having the wrong foods at the wrong season, not moving the lymph through movement (exercise), introducing toxic substances (drugs, alcohol, smoking, processed foods, chemicals), stressing itself through poor coping patterns and overworking itself... this leads to eventual cascade failure of its weakest system. This can be chronic fatigue, cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis or other conditions. Half of your health is determined by your genetics and the other half is what you do to yourself or may have done to you.

I often see patients who had some kind of cascade series of events whether known to themselves or not that lead to serious symptoms. Often medication is introduced which caused more symptoms and then medication to treat the medication. They are looking for some magic and what they need is to start cultivating something else.

Increasingly I am having younger families come in and it is natural that they raise their kids organically, barefoot, natural medicine, clean water, no television, no sugar, and outdoors as much as possible. The WWII generation did not know it was going to live as long as they did and they lived beyond the medical literature. There were only guesses as to how it would be. The Baby Boomers watched and wanted answers but sometimes it was too little too late. Generation X did not like the answers and are now surprised the Gen Y is following through with cleaner living and life naturally after observing the results of doing little to nothing. What is exciting is that in a few generations many of the questions of healthy aging will clearly be known. In the meantime we do the best we can and make decisions on how to live today.



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