Posted by: corneliadavies | October 2, 2015

Why do we find it so difficult to change what we eat according to the season?

Yesterday two patients initiated conversations about what they’re eating, mainly at lunchtime.

Both pretty much know what they should be eating, and both were very aware that they were struggling to achieve this.

Talking around the subject with each of them we arrived at two conclusions:

  • They didn’t have adequate time to think about or prepare what they knew to be good food for themselves at lunchtime.
  • They hadn’t taken on board how the change from summer to autumn had changed their appetite desires as well as the food that was available around them, and this was contributing to their lunchtime choices being unsatisfactory, leading to them eating “wrong” food for them or to snacking.

So, how can we address these issues?

I think that part of the problem is that we carry on headlong into autumn without giving much thought to the fact that things are changing food-wise as well as weather-wise. We also have to deal with a lot of other changes at this time: end of holiday season, beginning of term, new projects, new evening classes and activities, different family commitments, and more. So the simple question, “Do I need to re-think my lunch options to suit the season?” doesn’t get much, if any head space.

Salads: if you’ve had acupuncture you’re probably aware that Chinese medicine doesn’t particularly endorse eating lots of salads. But you can get away with it or even thrive on some salads in summer, because your body has extra outside help with keeping warm. Salads are cooling to the system, so if we carry on eating them after summer our digestive systems have to heat up our stomach contents more in order to metabolise successfully, and this uses up more energy that we could do with using elsewhere in the body. This can lead to tiredness and possibly even weight problems when it leads to a sluggish system.

But wait, this is not the standard Chinese medicine “don’t eat salads” conversation. It’s quite likely that you’ve been eating, enjoying and benefitting from the freshly-available nutrients in salads during the summer. But now autumn is here your body will be trying to tell you that it wants something slightly different. The question is, have you had time to listen to your body and have you given yourself time to remember/assess what delicious things are available with the turning of the seasons?

Personally, I slightly regret the passing of the time of plentiful bowls of strawberries. But the truth is, even if good-tasting strawberries were available throughout the cooler months I don’t think I’d want them so much. Now I find myself wanting warmer, more deeply nourishing foods; foods which feel as though they’re upgrading the building blocks deep inside me, ready to withstand the cold of winter. Now that I’ve given my head the space to think about what I need in my larder, and to actually go out to get it, it’s full of winter nourishing vegetables and I have a chicken casserole on the go, which I relish. And I’ll be brewing up chicken stock and baking some squash soon. And eating all the green vegetables I can get my hands on (no change there, then!)

Sometimes getting out of sync with you eating can be a case of needing a seasonal change in shopping habits. Rewind your mental clock and remember what you enjoyed eating last autumn or winter. It may simply be that you’ve forgotten you need some of those things in your kitchen. At this end of the growing season wonderful fresh, locally grown food is appearing in the green grocers’ shops: parsnips, squash, sweet potatoes, kale, purple sprouting broccoli, seasonal cabbages, leeks, and there are still things like carrots, green beans and courgettes around.

Now is a good time to make a deeply nourishing 3-day pot of soup or a casserole, particularly if it’s just you in for lunch, and you may not have the time or inclination to make something new every day. Or if that sounds like too much hassle, you could buy a couple of cartons of chilled soup to keep ready in the fridge, but make sure they’re ones without added sugar: Covent Garden and, I think, Waitrose chilled soups are sugar-free, and you may find other brands. Or make some chicken stock and freeze it in small pots. Then you can defrost one and add it to yesterday evening’s left over veg and potatoes; incredibly quick, and particularly yummy if you’ve managed to rescue some of the potatoes or parsnips that went with a roast dinner. Keep miso in the fridge for a quick and nourishing soup wherever you are. Be brazen and buy tinned organic lentils or beans (no, not baked beans!) all ready to make stews.

If you’re not home at lunchtime and you can’t afford to pick up a takeaway soup or eat out you still might want to take some food with you. If you’d still prefer to take a salad in a box, or perhaps some cold (but not chilled) roast veg or chicken with a salad on the side, try to include some “warm” salad ingredients, such as watercress or rocket, or add some fresh grated ginger. This will give your digestive system a helping hand. A handful or two of nuts goes a long way to providing a protein boost; perhaps some unsalted almonds, cashews or a few brazils to add to what you have, instead of those tempting crisps or chocolate.

Above all, do what you want to do and eat what feels right for your body. We’re all gloriously individual and our needs change all the time. We just need time to listen to our bodies and take a few minutes to process that conversation.

© Cornelia Davies September 2015

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