“Another year gone, leaving everywhere its rich spiced residues: vines, leaves, the uneaten fruits crumbling damply in the shadows…This, I try to remember when time’s measure painfully chafes, for instance when autumn flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing to stay – how everything lives, shifting from one bright vision to another, forever in these momentary pastures.”
– Mary Oliver, Fall Song
The Indian summer is here (my favorite period of the year)! The Autumnal transition period is a great season to prepare for getting back into hectic work life, colder temperatures and the general routine of “running around”…in a healthy way. Slowly settling into this time with healthy habits will allow your body to benefit from the rest and sun of the summer longer, and maintain energy levels up throughout the winter.
So what is the best way to do this? Well, you may not want to hear this but by changing unhealthy habits into healthy ones, one step at a time. Granted, this is not an easy thing to do especially with food, because it is often associated with psycho-emotional factors, “comforting” memories, cultural identity and the influence of vicious cycles of addictive habits (sugar and coffee for instance), but if you do it in small steps it can even become enjoyable as you start noticing the positive changes in your health and vitality.
So let’s start with a refresher of a few basic tenants of good health. I know that most of you will be familiar with these already, but it is always good to start with the fundamentals…
• Choose to eat fresh, organic, seasonal and sustainable (i.e. high-quality) food when possible. Look into local farmers’ markets or local organic producers – there are even services that will deliver to your door. There’s nothing more enjoyable than a market full of colourful seasonal fruit and vegetables, cheeses, breads, etc. And, if you live in an area that is free of pesticides, make foraging for seasonal fruits and herbs a family affair at the weekends – it gives eating them so much more meaning…
• Continue getting at least 15-20 minutes of sunshine (when available). A brisk walk or sit out in the sun with arms bare (outside of mid-day sun times if possible) is the best way to maintain your vitamin D levels up as long as possible – an essential ingredient for a healthy immune system during the dark winter months.
• Ensure you are getting good levels of vitamin C, preferably through fruits and vegetables rather than pills and powders. The morning lemon water I spoke of in my previous post is a good way of beginning with a morning dose (remember to avoid taking vitamin C after mid-afternoon (3-4 pm) since it can interfere with sleep). Red fruits are particularly good to eat at this time since many are in season (blackberries, raspberries, bilberries/blueberries, black or red currants, etc.) and others such as plums, figs, grapes and pomegranates.
• Stay away from processed and high-sugar foods (including soft-drinks, even if “sugar-free”).
• Choose instead those foods that are in a form closest to their natural state. Whole grains with low GI when choosing carbs for instance…try alternatives like oats, millet, quinoa, amaranth and brown rice.
• Keep foods that are harder to digest or strain your digestive system to a minimum – these include sugary foods, fried foods, foods made with cream or butter-based sauces, charcuterie, red meats and most milk-based products (especially cheeses and creams).
• Choose virgin cold pressed oils like olive, coconut, clarified butter (ghee), linseed and hemp for dressing and cooking foods (remember that these last two should not be heated) instead of margarines (nasty and full of trans-fats), and oils such as sunflower, safflower, corn, soybean, etc that are rich in Omega-6 (you get enough of these from other nutrients and a higher Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio is linked to inflammation).
• As temperatures fall, begin to increase amounts of warm cooked foods and reduce the amount of cold raw foods in your diet. Try using cooking techniques like steaming, baking, roasting and stewing to improve nutrient absorption in the cold weather months.
• Keep alcohol intake to a minimum (one unit per day).
• Maintain high daily water intake (at least 1.5 litres/day) – preferably filtered or mineral water (choose those with low mineral content unless you need to include certain minerals into your diet).
• Try alternatives to coffee in the mornings – green tea, caffeine free herbal coffees (they do exist and are pretty good!), maté, rooibos, wheat grass, (sustainably sourced) ginseng tea, hot cocoa made with hazelnut or almond milk.
• Help restore and maintain your gut flora – essential for a good immune system – one natural way is to eat pre-biotic/inulin rich foods (artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, onions, garlic, bananas, rye, barley, asparagus) and also pro-biotic ones such as kefir, yogurts, miso, sauerkraut and other fermented foods.
• Don’t lose touch with the outdoors! Autumn is such a colourful season with plenty to do so get out in the crisp, fresh air, take walks in nature and break up your routine. If you are close to the sea, go for walks on the beach, dip your legs into the cold water to help blood flow and breathe in the iodine-rich air which will help support your thyroid.
• Find a gentle way to ease into a regular exercise routine. It takes 3-4 weeks for the body to integrate a routine or habit and it is so much easier to start when sunlight is still relatively present and you are still energised by the summer holidays!
• Get into a healthy sleep routine. Sleeping habits should adjust with the changing length of days through the seasons. In autumn, as the days become shorter, try going to sleep earlier to avoid the chilly nights and waking up earlier to enjoy the morning air. Remember that the critical sleep time for your hormonal system is between 11 pm to 2-3 am.
• Remember to make time to breathe. A great way of combining breath work, relaxation and gentle exercise are practices such as Mindfulness, Yoga, Tai Chi and others. Start with just 5 minutes and work your way to longer periods or break them up during the day.
• Layer clothes – it’s important not to heat your body up too fast and let it gently adjust to colder temperatures. A cool freshly aired bedroom also favours good sleep.
Enjoy! And watch this space for more specific tips and remedies for the Autumnal season!