3 Gentle Nutrition Tips for Spring
The sun is growing longer in the sky, the birds are starting to sing, and the Earth is awakening beneath us. As the seasons change, we, too, begin to change. Naturally, this time of year, we begin to wake up from our sedentary slumber and become more active in our lives. The new growth of herbs and vegetables allows us to incorporate freshness into our mealtimes that generally we wouldn’t have access to if we didn’t have mass grocery productions and imported goods. This season comes with awe and inspiration for transformation and growth. Unfortunately, this nourishing season gets taken advantage of with diet-culture and weight-loss programs when there are plenty of opportunities to support well-being without the pursuit of thinness tagging along.
Here we will cover some of those well-being opportunities that we can incorporate and benefit from without dieting and detox supplements. The concept of cleansing our bodies in the Spring is rooted in a traditional context. I want to bring awareness to those traditions and how diet culture infiltrated these practices with toxic sales. Spring is a beautiful time of year, filled with uplifting emotions and hope. With heart-centered awareness in our lives, we can hold on to those inspiring emotions and learn to take care of our bodies without guilt and shame.
We’ll look at how trendy buzz words like “detox,” “cleanse,” or “Spring weight-loss challenge” came about, what heart-centered approaches to Spring we can take for our optimal well-being, and how you can ease into the transitions of the seasons.
Traditional Roots of Spring Cleanses
Once upon a time ago, box chain grocery stores didn’t exist. Families would have to store grains and root vegetables from their fall harvest to eat over the cold, dreary months. Hunters and farmers would provide meat for the meals from early winter, and that was how life went until the sun came back and the weather warmed up. Spring signified growth. Cold-weather crops would begin to grow in the early part of Spring, like kale, spinach, and other green leafy vegetables—herbs like stinging nettles and wild garlic sprout early, giving a refreshing diversity to mealtime.
This time of year is, in fact, a season of change, rejuvenation, and growth. It is a season of new beginnings and refreshments. It isn’t a ten day-program; it’s a three-month transition of waking up from a long winter’s slumber. Feelings of stagnation are balanced with gentle movement as we come outside, clean our yards, work the ground for a new garden. Years ago, when greens started to grow, we had to forage and cultivate seedlings. Your detox was the combination of wild-harvested nutrients, cold-weather gardening, and increased movement.
Almost all forms of ancient medicine talk about Spring as a fresh start. In Ayurvedic medicine, Spring is the season of the Kapha dosha. The Kapha constitution contains the elements Earth and Water, fitting for Spring. Remember the adage, “April showers bring May flowers.” The moisture of the season helps nurture the new growth. Opposites balance in the Ayurvedic medicine. Kapha doshas are known for their heaviness, dull, and moist attributes, so to balance that, we aim for light and airy qualities. Think fresh leafy greens, garlic, and onions. These vegetables and herbs are astringent, bitter, yet light and fresh. Therefore, we balance the heaviness of Kapha with the variety of light herbs and vegetables that naturally begin to grow this season. Mother Nature is intelligent.
Spring in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is also for cleansing. TCM uses the five-element philosophy to framework our relationship with nature and life force (Qi). The Spring season in TCM is related to the Wood element, often associated with growing, transformation, and endurance. The elements also correspond with organs in the body. Wood relates to the liver and gallbladder. Fascinating enough, the early sprouting plants, like arugula, wild garlic, dandelion leaves, and other bitter greens have cholagogue properties, stimulating and flushing for the liver and gallbladder – hence their “detox and cleansing” actions.
You can see that traditionally, we have always known how to utilize the Earth’s resources for wellness. When we connect to our environment and mimick the seasons, we can nourish our bodies more profoundly than just eating “healthy food” or taking supplements. Nature surrounds us with the answers to wellness, and traditional cultures listen and respond in a way that cycles with seasons. It takes time for rejuvenation and growth. Watch a seedling transform into a fruiting plant. It doesn’t happen overnight. Just like nourishing your body, it takes time.
Heart-Centered Nutrition for Spring
Heart-centered nutrition incorporates gentle nutrition principles with herbal medicine and self-compassion to guide you through making decisions for your body, mind, and spirit. Gentle nutrition is essential in this season, and every season, because it gives you the power to listen to your body and respond with love and respect. As thrilling and sexy as they sound, Spring detox programs only plant seeds of negative thoughts, like being highly toxic or lazy and eating all the wrong things. These thoughts lead to short and negative behaviors motivated by guilt that are unnecessary and unsustainable. On the other hand, gentle nutrition leads with self-compassion, education, acceptance, understanding what our bodies need for nourishment, and creating sustainable behaviors that will benefit you for more than just two weeks of the year.
This approach to wellness will look different for everyone, as it meets you where you are in your journey. No two people walk the same path in life, and wellness should reflect the differences in the journey. Here are a few tips for you to incorporate gentle changes into your routine that align with the season and will allow you to embrace the seasonal healing without extreme “detox” and diet trends.
1) Incorporate seasonal produce
One of the transitions we can make is incorporating more seasonal produce into our daily routines. Spring is the time of year when fresh herbs and ve
getables are more accessible. You may even notice that certain seasonal produce is on sale at your local grocer because it is more attainable within the growing season. Spring vegetables include radishes, green leafy vegetables like collard greens and spinach, asparagus, and broccoli. Seasonal fruits include strawberries and citrus fruits (as they are fresh and harvested in southern locations). Herbs like arugula, cilantro, onions, ramps, and wild garlic are also more readily available. For a complete list of seasonal produce that you can integrate into your spring season, click here.
Winter is a time for hibernation, and hibernation usually brings lower activity. We tend to be more sedentary in the colder months, which is perfectly normal! Once the weather begins to break, we notice that we are ready to get outside, go for walks, and start playing in our yards and gardens. We have this instinctual urge to play and move. By getting out and moving our bodies more, we wake up our life force from the long winter nap. Our metabolism begins to move, our energy increases, and we activate our natural detoxification systems. Movement doesn’t have to be hours in the gym to count as beneficial for our health. Any amount of increased activity will be healing.
Breathing is one of the most underutilized but highly effective tools for calming, grounding, and cleansing our bodies. The respiratory system is one of the many systems involved in detoxification. Naturally, as we increase movement, we also increase our breathing and respiration. When we breathe in, we take in more oxygen, providing our bodies with the essential nutrient for life; and when we exhale, we eliminate toxins in the form of carbon dioxide. Regulation of breathing, also practiced in yoga called pranayama, puts the body in a state of relaxation, necessary for healing. It can also stimulate lymphatic movement when practiced using the whole diaphragm. The lymphatic system is essentially the “sewer system” of the body, aiding in eliminating toxic waste. Breathwork goes far beyond these few benefits; maybe another blog to come!
Ease of Seasonal Transitions
One thing we want to keep in mind is that Spring is a lovely mix between winter and summer. The days will fluctuate from warm and sunny to cold and dreary; at least, that is how my spring season looks. There will be days when a warm pot of potato soup and a hearty sandwich will bring more comfort than a crisp, refreshing salad, as this transition should be. Like the seasons, our bodies don’t necessarily change overnight. Change is subtle and gradual. Harsh “detox” products and quick cleanses can send the body into a healing crisis. It’s not uncommon for people to experience adverse side effects, also known as Herxheimer reactions, due to an overload of toxins being forced into and out of the system. The intent may be good, but the body can only handle small, gradual changes.
When navigating seasonal changes, especially the Spring season known for its detoxification practices, remember that it is ok to move slowly. The trees don’t bloom overnight, and the sun doesn’t grow to its lengths in one day. Your body and wellness will benefit from incorporating a bit more Spring slowly into your routine than jumping in feet first like a diving board. The liver filters toxins but can only take on so much at a time. Treating your body with the love and compassion it deserves includes using patience and making transitions gradual so that you can listen to how your body responds. Nothing we do in life is all or nothing, including taking care of our bodies.