This is a guest post from Mira and Jayson Calton of Calton Nutrition. As many of you know, I’ve written extensively on the seasonality of eating, and the fractal nature of early human existence. In this guest post, the Caltons share a few of their own insights and discoveries on seasonal eating patterns, and provide a new perspective on weight loss plateaus. Enter the Caltons…
“Whoever wishes to investigate medicine properly should proceed thus: in the first place to consider the seasons of the year.”
– Hippocrates, the father of medicine (circa 400 B.C.)
Even for those of us living in Florida, the unexpected crispness in the morning air is a sure sign that summer is over. And, just as the seasons change, so do the foods mother earth brings forth. Like winter, spring and summer before it, fall brings with it a unique bounty of colorful and delicious seasonal produce. It might surprise you to learn that the term “fall” is actually quite new. Prior to the 16th century, this season was known as “harvest.” In fact, both the Dutch and German words for this season are still based on the seasonal reaping of the crops. However, in many other languages, including English, by the 1500s the term harvest had lost any real relevance for most people. As industrialization took hold, more and more families moved into the cities, leaving farming behind. As the masses of urban city dwellers grew, this season’s name was changed from “harvest” to “fall” – a word adopted from the Old Norse word used to express “a falling from a height” like that of the leaves from the trees.
In modern times, the fall season conjures up images of Halloween, Thanksgiving, warm fires and hearty meals – things that can easily cause you to fall off your normal dietary pattern and put on a few pounds. In fact, starting in the fall and usually ending January 1st (think New Year’s resolution), millions around the world suffer through the annual tradition of weight gain. This seemingly unstoppable event leaves most frustrated and angry with themselves for once again falling off their diets and regaining either a portion or all of the weight they worked so hard to lose. But here is where this story gets interesting. While it is true from one perspective that this seasonal weight gain may look like an unwanted setback, what if, from another perspective, it was a natural and beneficial way to reset and prime your metabolism for efficient and sustained fat burning?
Do we have your attention? During the Calton Project (our 6-year, 100-country, 7-continent global expedition to observe the lifestyle and dietary habits of remote, semi-remote and urban people throughout the world to discover how different nutritional philosophies affected overall health), we made several interesting observations. The first was that micronutrient deficiency is the most widespread and dangerous health condition of the 21st century – but that is a topic for a different blog. (Read our first book, Naked Calories, to find out more.)
The second and equally important observation was that the groups exhibiting the most impressive physiques and vibrant health did not voluntarily restrict available foods from their dietary profiles – meaning they did not choose their food based on whether it was low fat, low carb, animal or plant-based. Instead, they ate what was available to them at any given time. In short, they ate seasonally. We have come to believe that seasonal eating contains a certain innate wisdom that communicates biochemically with the body, which efficiently and effortlessly signals it to burn fat, gain muscle, maintain weight and, yes, even gain fat. While the foods of each season bring within them unique communications that over millennia have helped mankind survive, in this blog we will focus on what the fall foods are telling your body to do.
So what are “fall foods” and what are they signaling your body to do? Depending on your geographical location, fall foods differ; but generally speaking, in America when we think of fall we think of foods like potatoes, corn, apples, pumpkins, dates, figs, pears and squash. Thoughts of Thanksgiving, the harvest, and cornucopias filled with colorful produce come to mind. Yes, there is still turkey, duck, venison, fish and all the wonderful meats we cherish and enjoy year round, but the key to understanding fall’s signal is in that first group of foods. What is the big difference between turkey, duck and venison and foods such as potatoes, corn and apples?
The first group is comprised primarily of protein and fat, whereas the second group is composed primarily of carbohydrates. Each of the three macronutrients (protein, fats, carbs) give off a unique signal to the body and that signal changes quite dramatically when macronutrients are combined. This means that while fat and protein may give off one signal, protein and carbohydrates give off a completely different one. It’s like a code; the foods inherent to each season are made up of a basic macronutrient ratio – as the seasons change, so do the foods, the macronutrient ratio, and the signal telling your body what to do. Are you starting to see where we are going here?
Okay, we have probably said WAYYYYY too much already. Our third book, which will reveal our 4SEASONSFORLIFE® Revolutionary Lifestyle program and will be published by Primal Blueprint Publishing, won’t come out till next year and Mark doesn’t want us to spoil the surprise. Besides, Primal Blueprint Publishing still has our second book, Rich Food, Poor Food – Your Grocery Purchasing System (GPS) to release first in February. However, he did say we could release this sneak peak and talk about how fall foods affect health. So, let’s get back on track.
In the fall, nature provides a diet comprised of all three macronutrients: fat, protein and carbohydrates, but these aren’t just any carbohydrates. Fall brings forth very specific kinds of carbohydrates – starchy carbohydrates and high sugar fruits – foods designed to give you lots of energy and cause an addictive response.
Think of it this way: You live in what is now Minnesota 100,000 years ago, and one fall day you see a big red thing on the tree (apple). You pick big red thing off tree and eat it. You like big red thing. You shake tree and many big red things fall. You pick up as many big red things as you can carry and take them back to your tribe. Everyone loves big red things and they eat them until their hearts are content. The next day everyone wakes up and wants more big red things and you notice more trees with more big red things on them. You don’t need to hunt since there are so many big red things everywhere that taste so good. The weather is cool, the days are shorter, you eat, you sleep, you gain a layer of fat – just in time for winter.
Now we’ve obviously simplified this story, but did you see how everything worked together perfectly to effortlessly and efficiently get the tribe fattened up and ready for a cold, long winter? No special training was needed. Nature, in its infinite wisdom, simply enveloped us in an environment that used color to attract us to particular foods, pleased us with flavor and addicted us to a food type that when eaten in great enough quantities would stimulate a fat storage hormone. This hormone would eventually produce a layer of stored energy that would insulate us from cold weather and would be used as an energy source during the dormant months of winter. In addition, the days are shorter in the fall, which is nature’s way of further restricting overall energy expenditure and promoting weight gain.
If you don’t think this is a big deal, imagine the story again; but this time when you take as many big red things as you can back to your tribe, everyone eats big red things and loves big red things – except Eve, who hates big red things. The next day everyone except Eve wakes up and wants more big red things and so while the rest of the tribe is unknowingly preparing themselves for winter survival, Eve, due to that fact that she did not become addicted to the big red things, is not storing fat and is not preparing herself for winter survival. When winter comes and everyone else is able to maintain proper body temperature and has stored fat to use as fuel, Eve is cold, weak and has an increased risk of sickness, and death. (We hope you didn’t have your eye on that one as a possible mate.)
Our point is that although as a culture we have devised ways to stay warm and have the luxury of an unlimited variety of foods available year round, our bodies still react with the age-old evolutionary methods for preservation. That is to say, weight gain in the fall has always been normal and essential throughout the history of mankind. While our modern day environment is far from that of our ancestors, our attraction to brightly colored foods and our addiction to carbohydrates (sugar) is still very much intact.
You’re probably wondering when we are going to get to the part about how gaining fat can help to burn fat. Well, we’re here. When you look at everything we just discussed you can see how a constant state of weight loss would not have been a very natural or beneficial state for overall survival. The modern “get thin at any price” mentality has led most of us to believe that weight loss equals “good” and weight gain equals “bad.” However, what if weight gain was simply the evolutionary signal that resets and primes your metabolism for efficient weight loss and fat burning?
Regardless of the diet attempted, we have all experienced a frustrating period of plateau – when the weight loss stalls and there seems to be nothing we can do to kick-start it. Instead of struggling at this point and falling victim to the “eat less and exercise more” mantra that inevitably ends in disaster, what if we tried something completely different – an eat more, exercise less philosophy? Crazy, right? But what if a weight gain period, even a small one, signals something deep in our DNA that primes the body for fat burning? Isn’t that what the fall season did for our ancestors for eons? As said before, we don’t want to say too much so we will end the blog here. But before we go, we want to urge you to think about what we have said.
In our modern world of clinical trials and cutting-edge techniques we can sometimes lose sight of the more natural, less complicated methods for achieving our goals. While endless hours of cardio and bird-sized rations may look on paper like it will equate to the weight loss you so desperately seek, this equation over time eventually leads to micronutrient deficiencies, frustration, injury and failure. Perhaps a seasonal prescription is a better way to go. Think of it as a carb re-feed carried through to its natural end. Just as fat was vilified for so many years by those who didn’t, and still don’t, understand it, we urge you to see a small weight gain period not as something bad, but as something beneficial – a clever code written by nature herself, that once deciphered can aid you in achieving optimal health and living your optimal life!