Spring is a natural time to detox and shed the weight of winter. Learn more about how our bodies adjust to seasonal eating, and why change is good.
According to Ayurveda, living in sync with seasonal changes, including eating seasonal foods, is the basis for optimal health and longevity. And with a seasonal diet comes natural fluctuations in weight.
People in non-equatorial regions are hardwired to gain weight in the fall, in order to insulate and store fuel for the long, cold, and dark winter months ahead. The fall growing season is just right for grains and sweet and starchy crops like potatoes, which are the perfect foods for bulking up.
Come spring, people tend to shed those extra pounds by changing their primary fuel supply from carbohydrates to fats. In the spring, carbs and starches were scarce. Available foods included stored nuts and seeds, along with hunted meat (all of the fats and organ meats were eaten in order to survive and get vitamin D and other essential fat-soluble vitamins). Based on the habits of both our paleo and agrarian-based ancestors, we are pre-programmed to naturally restrict calories in the spring (there is a reason many religious fasts are in the spring). This restriction makes us burn our own fat as fuel—exactly what we are looking for in an Ayurvedic detox, making spring the perfect season for such work.
In this article I share the benefits of seasonal eating, and the healthiest way to navigate nature’s seasonal food source fluctuations and the inevitable weight gains and losses associated with them. But first, the science behind this ancient wisdom.
The Benefits of Seasonal Eating
Sure, you can go to the grocery store in the middle of December in Delaware and buy oranges and tomatoes, but your gut, via gut bacteria, is still functioning as if you lived in a cave thousands of years ago.
Even if you are not part of a hunter-gatherer or agrarian society anymore, your microbiome makes a shift every spring to help you crave and burn fat and fiber, rather than sweets and carbs.1 Carbohydrate-eating Bacteroidetes that populate the gut in the summer and fall make room in winter and spring for a fat- and fiber-eating group of bacteria called Actinobacteria.2 This seasonal microbial shift has been found to regulate fluctuations in hunger, cravings, and weight. Because our microbiome is linked to seasonal changes, if we aren’t eating seasonally, we may be supporting the wrong bugs in the wrong season. When this happens, we get by, but we don’t thrive.
We RecommendSeasonal Living: The Original Biohack
Decades of studies have confirmed the seasonal changes that take place in diet, weight, immunity, physical activity, and much more. Yet, seasonal eating is still the unsung hero of an out-of-balance and confusing list of best-selling, but short-lived, diet books. We have been eating seasonally since the beginning of our human history and now we have emerging science to tell us why it’s still beneficial.
Seasonal eating is related to circadian rhythms, or the light-dark cycles that affect both days and seasons.
The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) is considered the master circadian clock within the human body. It’s located in the brain’s hypothalamus and takes in information from our retinas on the length of days and nights. It then passes on that information to the pineal gland, which secretes melatonin, helping us to sleep when we are supposed to sleep and wake up when we need to. The SCN is also a seasonal clock that measures the length of daylight over time, meaning the human brain keeps track of the seasons using the same nucleus of neurons that govern daily circadian rhythms.12
Spring and Fall Eating Patterns
During spring in non-equatorial regions, and before a globalized produce market, harvests were austere and devoid of grains and starches. This forced people to eat less, lose weight, and consume more roots and beans (leftover from the fall harvest) and spring greens.
Studies have shown that populations around the world still eat less in springtime compared to summer and fall and naturally lose significantly more weight in spring months, despite a globalized food market and access to most anything year-round.
Research published in the journal Physiology & Behavior studied 315 adults who were paid to record everything they ate for a week during different seasons. Across the board, there was a significant increase in carbohydrates in the fall, compared to the spring. The study participants also consumed greater amounts of food in the fall than they did in the late spring, and even reported still being hungry after eating larger fall meals.3
In a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 593 participants living in Massachusetts and ranging in age from 20 to 70 years old ate almost a 100 kcal more in the fall than they did in the spring.8
And in rural Peru, highlanders there consumed an average of 1150 kcal per day in the preharvest, spring period and 1519 kcal per day in the post-harvest, fall season.9
Spring and Fall Weight Fluctuations
In a study published in the International Journal of Obesity, 146 women who were involved in a clinically controlled weight loss treatment plan lost more weight during the spring.4
Confirming the seasonal and circadian nature of weight loss, another study, published in the journal Eating and Weight Disorders, measured 248 adults who were engaged in a 12-month behavioral (not dietary) weight loss program. The results revealed that participants lost weight from winter to spring and actually gained weight from fall to winter.5
Cardiovascular Risk Rises and Motivation to Exercise Drops in Winter
Research shows that if you eat poorly all year, your health may pay the prince in the winter—the natural time of year to insulate.
In a study entitled Changes in dietary intake account for seasonal changes in cardiovascular disease risk factors, researchers found significant changes in cardiovascular risk factors from summer to winter. Ninety-four industrial employees were evaluated twice a year, once in mid-summer and once in mid-winter. In the winter, there were significant increases in:6
- Blood pressure
- Total cholesterol
- LDL cholesterol
- Total fat intake
- Saturated fat intake
- Polyunsaturated fat intake
- Salt intake
In a 12-month study published in Women and Health, 59 Mexican-American women were evaluated for seasonal variations in body weight and physical activity. There was a significant increase in vigorous aerobic exercise in the spring and a decline in the fall. Researchers concluded that seasonal changes in exercise cause a significant increase in weight gain in the fall, as compared to the spring.7
Because of our history and the survival mechanisms still employed by the human body, we all have a tendency to gain weight in the fall and winter. We pay the price for these seasonal tendencies when we over eat, consume processed foods and sweets, and become sedentary. Ayurveda suggests combating these tendencies with seasonal eating year-round. In Ayurveda, you detox and lose weight in the spring and gorge of fresh fruits and greens in the summer. In this scenario, gaining a few pound each winter will be a natural and healthy occurrence, rather than dangerous for your health.
We RecommendHow To Stay Healthy This Winter
Try Ayurvedic Intermittent Fasting This Spring
This spring, to ensure that you reset your ability to burn fat and shift your gut bugs, change your fuel supply from carbs to fat and consider a healthy form of calorie restriction (again, which happens naturally each spring if we eat organically and seasonally). Time-restricted eating, calorie restriction, and intermittent fasting mimic how traditional communities ate. And now they have been thoroughly studied with undeniable results. Eating less food is one of the most reliable strategies for balanced weight loss, heart health, and blood sugar support.10,11
The Ayurvedic approach is based in circadian science, which suggests breakfast and lunch are the most important meals of the day. Instead of skipping breakfast or having only a cup of coffee, try Ayurvedic intermittent fasting, which recommends eating a healthy breakfast and lunch and skipping supper. The timing of these meals can vary, as long as you have a 13- to 18-hour no-eating window from lunch to breakfast. That said, from the Ayurvedic perspective, if you are straining, the body will respond to that strain by storing fat compromising the goal of the fast. So make sure whatever routine you decide to follow is manageable, and isn’t stressful.
We RecommendAyurvedic Intermittent Fasting
Ayurveda’s Natural Spring Weight Loss Plan
Here are eating basics for the months of March through June is you are eating seasonally:
- No Grains
- No sugar or added sweeteners
- No dairy, including sheep, goat, and cow
- No processed or packaged foods
- No refined foods
- Plenty of seasonal veggies and fruits
Try out seasonal eating and let us know how you feel.
If you are looking for in-depth weight loss support, follow my Spring Elimination Diet.