book-elson_haas-staying_healthy_with_the_seasonsMy career as a holistic health practitioner began nearly 30 years ago, sparked by personal health challenges, and a profound interest in food as medicine.

One of the earliest books I read on this fascinating topic was Dr Elson Haas’s Staying Healthy With The Seasons, and it fueled my passion and laid the groundwork for my lifelong study of the healing power of food.

Later, I was drawn to the study of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), in part because of its focus on the healing power of healthy foods – diet is one of the essential 5 Pillars of the comprehensive medical system that is TCM:

  1. Acupuncture
  2. Herbal Medicine
  3. Food Therapy / Nutrition
  4. Manual Therapy
  5. Qi Cultivation (Movement and Rest)

One of the key concepts of TCM is living in sync with the seasons, especially with our dietary and lifestyle choices, and this is one of our most powerful tools we as individuals have for achieving and maintaining harmony, balance and optimal health.

Another key concept in TCM is that of the 5 Elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water.

Within each of the 5 elements, energetically-related aspects of life on Earth and within our bodies are grouped together, and this categorization can help us to better understand the world around us and ourselves, and can guide us to act in ways that are beneficial to our health and longevity, to our communities, and to our greater environment.

5 element circle

One of the aspects that is grouped and defined by the 5 elements is the seasons of the year, and in Chinese medicine, there are 5 seasons: Spring, Summer, Late Summer, Autumn, and Winter (one for each of the 5 elements).

As I write this, we are shifting from the season of Summer to the season of Late Summer (which runs from the 3rd week of August until the Autumnal Equinox). The season of Late Summer is considered to be an especially powerful and significant time of year to attend to our health. This is the time when we move from the most Yang (warm, hot, dry, bright, active) time of year, to a more distinctly Yin (cool, moist, dark, quiet, still) time of year.

In Late Summer, the weather is still warm and sunny, but we are starting to see and feel the Autumn approaching, with shorter days, and cooler nights and early mornings. The air is becoming more crisp, and the plants are slowly changing as they prepare for Autumn. We are in a time of bountiful harvest now, and it is time to enjoy that bounty and harness it to strengthen ourselves for the cooler months ahead.

In Chinese Medicine, Late Summer corresponds to the Earth element, and governs the digestive organs of the Spleen, Pancreas and Stomach. Earth represents nourishment, both physical and emotional, as well as stability and grounded-ness. The Earth element – and the digestion – is the axis around which the rest of our mind-body-spirit revolves. Said another way, good digestive health is the cornerstone of good overall health!

The Earth season of Late Summer is the perfect time to focus on improving your digestion with mindful, relaxed eating of nourishing, supportive foods, herbs and spices, and supportive supplements. Strengthening the Earth element within us, and the digestion, with proper nutrition, mindful eating, and natural medicines can improve your overall health, and prepare you for the coming Fall and Winter months. It’s also a great time to reconnect or deepen connections with close friends and family – a healthy sense of community, safety and support reduces stress, nourishes the Earth element within us, and improves digestion.

Here are 4 things you can begin to do right away, that will go a long way to nourishing and balancing yourself, aligning with the season, and supporting your digestive health:

  1. Eat in a Low Stress Environment. Whenever you can, eat in a quiet, peaceful environment, and take your time eating your food. Chew each bite thoroughly, savoring the flavors and textures of your food. This will allow your body to  relax into the parasympathetic state – aka “rest and digest” – and better digest your food.
  2. Focus on Eating a Healthy Diet. Start with avoiding processed foods, seed oils, and grains, and minimizing sweet and starchy foods and beverages. Focus on fresh (or frozen) produce, pasture-raised meats and eggs, and healthy fats.
  3. Eat Local and Seasonal Foods. Not only does this support optimal digestion and help your body align with the season, but it also supports your local farmers, and minimizes environmental impact by decreasing food transportation. In Late Summer, a mixture of raw and cooked foods tends to work well for most people (though you should always cook most brassicas, since they are hard on the digestion and thyroid when eaten raw). Then, as Autumn gets closer, transition to more cooked foods.
  4. Take Digestion-Strengthening Supplements: Probiotics, Anti-Microbials, and Digestive Enzymes are powerful ways to support, balance and improve your digestion. (You can find these and much more at a discount in my online pharmacy at Fullscript.)
    • Probiotics help to boost and support your team of good gut microbes, which improves your digestion and detoxification, and strengthens your immune system. Klaire Labs Ther-Biotic is my favorite probiotic, for its comprehensive mix of well-researched, digestion-supporting probiotic strains.
    • Anti-Microbials help to reduce the number of bad gut bugs, and bring your digestive community back into a healthier balance, which makes the digestion work better while simultaneously strengthening your immune system. Berberine Complex by Integrative Therapeutics is a great choice in this department.
    • And finally, Digestive Enzymes boost the power of your gut to fully break down your foods, so you can extract every last drop of nutritious goodness from your tasty, healthy foods! My favorite one is Klaire Labs Vital-Zymes Complete, for its comprehensive mix of enzymes for protein, fat and carbohydrate digestion.

Finally, let’s close with a few of my favorite recipes for Late Summer, to help get you aligned with this powerful season:

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, run down, or are worried about getting sick in the fall/winter, or you are struggling to create a nourishing relationship with your food, or you have complex or chronic digestive issues that you need professional guidance to sort out, now is the perfect time to make an appointment with me for a digestive, immune-strengthening, and overall wellness improvement plan of action!