Just as the seasons change through the day and year, our needs change as well. Seasonal diets is more than eating what’s in abundance. It is also to support how we feel energetically, emotionally, and physically during the different parts of the day and year.
In his lecture Wellness Through the Seasons renowned Taoist Master Jeffrey C Yuen points out that when people want change in their life, one of the first things they change is their diet. And diets always work, in the beginning. He also teaches that our cravings are not pathological. We are only trying to satisfy our body’s needs. The question is why is the body calling for it.
What do you crave? How do you feel during the day? How is your energy level? What is your sleep like? What is your lifestyle?
Why Change What We eat
The other day I was listening to a radio show about introducing plant-based foods in Newfoundland. Traditionally this part of Canada has a rather meat-oriented diet. Think flipper pie, fried dough, and fried pork.
You may have heard about the merits of a plant-based diet from people such as Dr Ornish who helped President Clinton improve his health and Michael Pollan. According to the radio segment, many people did indeed switch to a more plant-based diet because of the benefits and results. It did take some convincing and “handholding” to help them transform the usual fare into healthier versions.
The Seasons and Diet
With so many kind of diets out there, many of us may wonder what works for a healthy heart, insulin-resistance, and weight loss, for example. The thing is life is not static and neither are we or our needs. Even if a diet supports our lifestyle, at some point we probably can benefit from examining if our lifestyle supports us.
One way to choose and adjust our diet is by aligning with the seasons. This can be the macro seasons through the year or the micro seasons through the month or even day. When we understand the energetics of seasons, we can better choose foods that are appropriate for us. Even so, Jeffrey Yuen reminds us to be close observers of how we feel throughout the day, week, month, and year.
Diet for Transitioning Between the Seasons
In Five Element Theory, there are five elements and five seasons. The correspondences are Spring – Wood, Summer – Fire, Late Summer – Earth, Autumn – Metal, and Winter – Water. The Earth element is also the 18-day transition between the seasons. We can also think of the day as starting with Spring and ending with Winter.
Even if you are not familiar with the five elements, you can relate to the what each season feels like. Burst of energy, new growth for Spring. Hot in the summer with lots of fruits. Cooler, energy withdrawing more inward. Quiet, little light, less active in the winter.
The 18 transition days are a time to rebalance our energy. We can do this with clean eating. Jeffrey Yuen suggests slowing down by decreasing the amount of food consumed, removing heavy foods such as meats and dairy, and moving towards a water fast. The length and intensity of the fast will depend on the individual. Those new to fasting should speak with their doctor and other practitioners experienced with fasting such as TCM and Ayurveda practitioners.
Another good time to do a lighter diet or to fast is during the first week of menstruation or at new moon.
According to Taoist principles, the new moon is an autumn/winter diet. This includes legume broth, tonics, and other easily-digestible foods that have concentrated energy. During the autumn and winter, there is little or no light and so we rely on foods to provide that for us. Another delicious option is Kitchari. This one-pot dish has many variations to balance all constitutions. Be sure to include psyllium husks with water or prune juice for regularity since kitchari is low in fibre.
Our diet provides more than nutrition for us. Knowing what is appropriate requires self-observation and self-understanding. You may want to keep a journal to keep track of how you feel during the day and to see what foods support or do not support you in your lifestyle. We also need to show greater compassion for ourselves and remember that cravings, as Jeffrey Yuen teaches, are not pathological. They reflect an imbalance and the body’s way of returning to homeostasis. The question to ask is whether the comfort zone it’s seeking is healthy for us.