In the upper Midwest, we enjoy 5 distinct seasons: spring, summer, late summer (aka Indian summer), autumn and winter. These seasons have their own unique characteristics that - when we tune into them - influence our experiences in body, mind and spirit. Some people are going to be affected by this more than others. Personally, I experience seasonal shifts pretty dramatically and need to adjust how I care for myself to find balance in the dynamic shifts of my environment.
Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda both do a good job of explaining the energetic qualities of these seasons and how they manifest in the body. I'm not an expert in either of these medical systems. Over the 15 years or so that I've worked in holistic health care, I've picked up a thing or two that has influenced how I think about wellness and nutrition. In working with clients, we sometimes can't explain why one day a way of eating works for a person and the next they feeling poorly eating the same exact foods. Ruling out physiological and biochemical imbalances, we're often led to view the imbalance from a more energetic perspective. That's when I draw on these traditions for insight and direction.
For me in my personal life, seasonal eating satisfies my desire to connect with nature. It also aligns with my food values, supporting my commitment to local and sustainable food systems. These topics exceed the attention span of this article, but I promise to circle back in future posts to elaborate.
Autumn in the Spirit
Autumn carries a level of melancholy - not just because after autumn comes winter, a season most Northerns both love and dread. Looking around at the landscape, trees are losing their leaves and plants are dying back for winter survival. This is a time for reflection and inner work. You may be surprised by existential crises that make you question everything in your life. Tears may flow more freely as old hurts resurface from out of nowhere. You may be tasked with letting go of the past - no simple thing.
Spiritual Self-care Suggestions:
Autumn in the Mind
This can also be a really creative time of year, but your creativity may be disorganized and hard to contain. The blustery winds of this season are stirring things up...and not necessarily putting them back down where you expect them to be. Anxiety may be heightened, thoughts may be clouded by emotion. Don't feel surprised if you crave dissociative behaviors like drinking alcohol or doom scrolling. I'm not saying these are activities that are going to help you, but their attraction will be heightened, so have grace with yourself around these cravings.
Mental Self-care Suggestions:
Autumn in the Body
Physically, autumn may present as symptoms in the lungs or colon: respiratory infections, shortness of breath, constipation, gas, bloating...you know, the fun stuff. The dryness may also make you feel more achy and uncomfortable. Supporting your immune system is key (download my Eating for Immunity Guide for some tips on how to do that).
Body Self-care Suggestions:
Finally, autumn is a season of preparation. I think most Northerners experience some level of seasonal depression, which will likely be exacerbated this year due to our limits for socializing during a pandemic. In addition to finishing house projects and getting things in order for a rejuvenating winter, I want you to consider self-care techniques you can employ to nourish your mood through the cold, dark months ahead. Simple things like supplementing with vitamin D, cultivating a gratitude practice and drafting a list of nice things you can do for others (the most effective way to increase happiness) is a good place to start.
I hope these adjustments to how you care for yourself help you navigate Autumn this year with more ease, balance and pleasure.
Every client I met with last week said (a variation) of the same thing:
"With everything that's going on in the world right now, taking care of myself feels low priority."
I get it. Things are really wild right now. We're all holding A LOT: a pandemic, an uprising. We're faced with our mortality while examining our thoughts, behaviors and actions that are either a solution to the problem or part of the problem. We're talking about hard stuff every day while trapped in our homes.
This is uncomfortable stuff.
It's also the stuff that changes the course of humanity. So keep doing the good work...AND let's get you back to caring for yourself while you're doing it.
I keep coming across the flight attendants' reminder from the beginning of every flight: put on your oxygen mask before trying to help someone else with theirs.
This idiom reminds us that before we can do any good for anyone else, we have to first do good for ourselves.
If you read nothing else on this page, read this: You are no good to any movement or cause or community or human, animal, or environment if you are not good to yourself.
How you care for yourself right now might differ from how you cared for yourself before the pandemic hit the US. It might differ from how you cared for yourself before George Floyd's murder. The self-care you need now might be totally and completely new to you.
Have you taken the invitation to explore that and make a self-care plan that's just for you in this specific moment in your life?
Shelly Tygielski (@mindfulskatergirl) has authored a number of articles on this topic for Mindful.org related specifically to self-care during the pandemic. She gives 3 good reasons why taking time to do some internal inventory and create a plan for caring for yourself is not just important but critical. I think these are especially important for those of us who are activated by recent events in Minneapolis and the movement they sparked in our nation and world.
Here are Tygielski's reasons to make a personalized Self-Care Plan:
Now that you know you need a Self-Care Plan, follow this link to get Tygielski's directions on creating one for yourself or download this worksheet I made adapting her recommendations to a visual form.
Time for true confessions: this is hard for me too. My stress response is to freeze. I have felt frozen in anxiety and fear for months now. I try to care for myself by eating regularly, exercising and meditating, but I'll go days - or even weeks - without any real success in that department. I'm more successful with my favorite dissociation techniques.
I followed Tygielski's prompts to come up with my own self-care plan. Here are some activities I'm working on in my Self-Care Plan right now:
As you're working on your own Self-Care Plan, notice any resistance you have to giving to yourself. Here are some wise words from Rachel Elizabeth Cargle (@rachel.cargle) that helped me put this in perspective for myself this week:
"...Meditate AND call your senator.
Go to yoga AND go vote.
Breathe deeply AND donate to causes that matter.
Go on a retreat AND go support small businesses.
Enjoy your essential oils AND check people on their bullshit in the community."
Are you feeling your body shift from winter to spring? I sure am!
Here are some ways I'm shifting my self-care to support these experiences I'm having:
What's your spring transition self-care plan? Share it in the comments below!
I don't know about you, but I have a very clear image in my mind about where my food comes from...and it is NOT based in reality.
In this fantasy world of mine, cows eat grass and roam lush pastures, chickens eat worms and roll in the dirt and rows of colorful vegetables collect dew into the sunset.
Isn't that picturesque?!
The truth is, an estimated 99% of animal products come from factory farms (aka "concentrated animal feeding operations" or CAFOs) and only 2% of American farmland produces vegetables (1, 2). What's happening on the remaining arable land? It's being used to produce corn, soy and other commodity crops that are routinely sprayed with herbicides and then fed to livestock or processed to unrecognizable additives to processed foods.
This truth bomb really bums me out.
For those of us who care about what our food dollars fund, we have looked to organics for standards we can stand by. We've entrusted this certification to provide us with ethical, humane and environmentally-kind foods. Foods that are more nutritious and healthier for our kids and ourselves. Foods that cost more, so must be worth something, right?!
While I do think that investing in certified organic foods is beneficial to the planet and to our bodies, I do not think this certification represents the ethical and humane standards that we assume when we see that label.
In grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts and other edible plants:
For meat, poultry, dairy and eggs, the rules are expanded to include some details about the living conditions for the livestock, but organic certification mostly ensures that the animals are fed an organic diet and that their byproducts are not contaminated by mingling with non-organic meat/milk/eggs/etc. Here's where organic certification starts to fall short, in my opinion:
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
"All organic livestock and poultry are required to have access to the outdoors year-round." This criteria sounds like it's meeting my dreamy expectations that animals are out on pasture, living their best lives, right?! The unfortunate truth is that livestock being raised organically can still be raised in CAFOs. This means crowded, stressful and unsanitary living conditions for the animals, leading to increased risk of illness, injury and premature death.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Ruminant animals have 4 stomachs and digest by fermenting their food - they chew their cud. Cows, goats and sheep are the most commonly consumed ruminants in the US, but bison and deer also digest their food this way. This magical digestive process turns grass (a nutrient-rich plant that humans cannot digest) into nutrient-packed milk and meat.
Organic certification standards require that ruminant animals are fed grass and other pasture...but it only needs to meet 30% of their dietary needs. Corn and other grains can make up the difference. This is advantageous to ranchers because grain-fed livestock gain weight more quickly than grass-fed livestock, quickening their pace to the slaughterhouse (the less time it takes to reach market weight, the less care an individual animal needs and the quicker ranchers can turn their investment into profit). Additionally, grain is cheaper to produce than grass.
However, grain-fed diets are not good for ruminate animals or for consumers. The fermentation of grains produces excess acid that damages a cow's digestive tract over time. For consumers, grain-fed meat and dairy also poses potential health risks. These products are higher in inflammatory fats and lower in nutrients.
What's not defined in organic standards are just as important as what is. What's missing? Requirements how the animals are handled. Organic certification allows beaks and tails to be removed and wings to be cut. This is done to animals that are often only days old and without any anesthesia or pain medication. There are reports of chronic pain and phantom limbs (chickens use their beaks like an arm).
The purpose? To prevent the animals from harming others when they're frustrated and stressed in crowded, unsanitary living conditions.
As a holistic health care provider who is obsessed with seeking out the root cause, this really gets my goat. Why don't we just improve the living conditions of these animals and leave their beaks and tails alone?! It's better for them and ultimately it's better for us. Meat, poultry, dairy and eggs that come from animals who are raised outdoors and fed diets that they would consume in the wild are more nutritious and less disease-promoting.
Feedlot settings on their own are inhumane, in my opinion. The definition of a CAFO and how many animals can be housed under the same roof varies somewhat from state to state, and even from county to county. Ultimately, though, thousands of chickens, turkeys, pigs and dairy cattle will be kept indoors for their entire lives. They eat, sleep and shit in the same spot. The air they breathe is polluted with their waste. They are crowded - so crowded that some livestock will be injured or even killed by being trampled.
It is not a good scene, organic or otherwise.
So is organic enough? Not for me. I think it falls short in many ways. I do appreciate that organic certification keeps farmland out of conventional food production, which I really do believe is better for the planet, for farmers and for eaters. That said, I want more from my food than what organic provides, especially when it comes to animal products.
Keep an eye on this blog if you are interested in this area. In the coming months, I'll be posting more about the production and consumption of animal products and other matters of the food system.
As eaters, we're responsible for steering the food system in the direction we want it to go. Every time we buy food, we're voting, telling food producers "I want more of that!" So know your food and put your money behind it.
1. U.S. Factory Farm Estimates Sentience Institute
2. The Healthy Farmland Diet: How Growing Less Corn Would Improve our Health and Help America's Heartland Union of Concerned Scientists
3. Organic Standards United States Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Marketing Services
I love food.
I love thinking about it, talking about it, writing about it. I love growing food, cooking and eating food. I use this space to try to convey that. Follow me on social media for more day-to-day inspiration on these topics.