Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
11 Oct

Fall Foods: Why Seasonal Eating Primes the Body for Fat Burning

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!

Learn More About the Caltons at Calton Nutrition and Stay Tuned for Their Upcoming Books

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I have enough fuel stored to survive Winter :)

    Wayland wrote on October 11th, 2012
  2. I’m a bit disappointed reading the comments. I feel like too many people are doing Paleo/Primal and getting good results. And the moment somebody proposes they change something that might, heaven forbid, put on 5 pounds or even suggest we, OH NO!!, eat starchy carbs, people flip out.

    Isn’t the rest of the world still shitting bricks that we’re eating bacon and drinking heavy cream and not dying of heart attacks? And now the rest of you freak out when someone suggests that we’re evolutionarily equipped to eat lots of natural starchy carbs when their seasonally available?

    It blows my mind.

    M wrote on October 11th, 2012
    • I agree. Some people take the Primal/Paleo principle way too far and are *cough* Primal absolutists (you will NOT hear the N-word from me).

      Once again: All the article said was that eating more carbs IN REGIONS WHERE THERE ARE DISTINCT SEASONS when winter is coming (*g*) is absolutely okay. Sheesh. You’d think Mark suggested cracking open those wheat flour bags and tucking in…

      It is evident that some here use the P/P living as a crutch and do not reflect on what the whole thing is about. Making sensible choices, listening to you body and not living like a damn monk.

      So, there were no apples in North America 100.000 years ago. Boo-ya! You just found the fatal flaw in the article. Might there have been other carb-laden fruit that were eaten in fall to gain a bit of insulation and energy reserves for the snowy season? Take off those blinders guys, dogmatism is a bad thing, even for Groks like us! Common sense is the way to go.

      Jotunsquid wrote on October 11th, 2012
  3. “Okay, we have probably said WAYYYYY too much already”

    Actually, I think the description is way too simplified and points to a few problems. Other experts talk in a lot of details about how different ratio’s of the macronutrients affect hormonal levels–that that information isn’t discussed here (at least that I’ve seen) has always seemed like a real weakness of the primal approach.

    And the other flaw this post points to is you have to believe in a storybook, daddy-god to think nature made carbs bright and showy for humans benefit. No one really knows what people ate in the ancestral environment (not to mention the fact that Grok would have thought himself incredibly lucky if lived to age 30.)

    Jimmy wrote on October 12th, 2012
    • I wasn’t a fan of the storybook narrative either, but I think “nature” certainly made “carbs” bright and shiny on purpose. Fruit “wants” to get eaten so that the seeds will be distributed and fertilized, and animals “want” to eat fruit because it’s a good source of energy.

      I suspect that the carb laden foods of autumn are a symbiotic phenomenon – propagating plants and preparing mammals for the lean months ahead.

      Joshua wrote on October 14th, 2012
  4. Hay guys, chill out!

    Never seen such a backlash on this site before. The Carlton’s article is probably off target and dumbed down but I think the message ‘eat seasonally and don’t stress over weight fluctuations’ is what I understand as one of the cornerstones of MDA.

    This site is big and would cost a lot to run so I expect Mark is looking for revenue streams but like with anything, exercise your BS filter and discount articles that don’t agree with you.

    Now go and enjoy your weekends, it’s Friday!

    Rhys wrote on October 12th, 2012
    • Rhys: I admire and generally support your positive approach, but integrity in the advice and information found here is what people are looking for.

      And it feels a little exploitative for authors to fall back on a “keep it positive” vibe when they’re selling you something.

      Jimmy wrote on October 12th, 2012
  5. Having been fascinated by Traditional Chinese Medicine’s approach to balance (therefore seasonality), but not being Chinese or ever really hoping to adopt that cultural position, it is welcome to hear a Western approach to this idea. TCM is old cultural wisdom, and the whole Ancestral Health thing seems to be our version of that…

    I don’t mind someone making a living off discoveries that will help me, so no stone throwing here–but I am eager to see the book and the science behind it.

    Tom B-D wrote on October 12th, 2012
  6. From urban dictionary:

    Illegal Gymigrant

    A term describing a person who sneaks into the gym without paying, or someone who uses another’s gym pass in order to work out.

    Brad always worked out three times a week, but, being an illegal gymigrant, he never actually paid to use the gym facilities – he just snuck past the front desk.

    Animanarchy wrote on October 12th, 2012
  7. Interesting idea. I lost 60 pounds before going primal by using a variation of this: I never went on short rations for more than 3 weeks, so as not to activate the famine mechanism. I have chronic fatigue, so increasing exercise was out of the question. So I used a model of intermittent dieting, and it worked very well for me. A slight weight gain when coming off the short rations was a more or less inevitable part of the method, although I would fight it back off. I would give my body a couple of months to rest on a maintenance diet before starting the cycle over. Essentially, you are talking about doing something similar, except in a longer time frame.

    Of course, in your model, people were forced to kick their addiction, simply by no longer having the carbs available, at least not in the same quantities. That would be the trick for us: getting away from the carbs once we were re-addicted.

    Judg wrote on October 12th, 2012
    • We are so happy you were successful using this basic approach. Yes, you are right, you do have to break your addiction to the carbs right after this type of weight gain, but this is exactly how 4SEASONSFORLIFE is set up. We wish you continued success!

      Mira & Jayson Calton wrote on October 12th, 2012
  8. Great piece, and great work from the Caltons. I had a chance to interview them for a nutrition & health program that I put together, and I was very impressed with their knowledge and professionalism.

    I look forward to the new book, and plan on definitely adding it to my library! Micronutrients play a huge role in overall health, which is often overlooked!

    Michael Roesslein wrote on October 12th, 2012
  9. Ravi, thanks for the distracting and unproductive rhetoric. I can’t wait for your book. I love condescending skeptics, especially ones that attack people on a personal basis.

    The Calton’s have spent many years building their reputation as well as their business and are highly respected in most Paleo/Nutrition circles. If you have a problem with that, you’re probably a communist as well as an asshole.

    I don’t see a lot of trolls on here, but the more popular a site/group becomes, the more likely it is to happen. Have you noticed not a single commenter shares your opinions or even acknowledges them (other than the Caltons)? Its not wise to feed the trolls, because they’ll keep coming back.

    Go join your kin and spew your negativity on 30bananasaday.

    Cale wrote on October 12th, 2012
  10. There’s a style of rhetoric in the Calton’s article which is presumptuous. Presuming 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.” belies a mindset where gaining muscle and burning fat are healthful or evolutionarily important.. I think this is not an evidence based position.
    Very directly, the Calton’s premise that putting on fat is not bad is a good one, and supported by much scientific literature. Whether seasonal ‘fattening’ still has a place in our ‘non-seasonalised’ world is deeply questionable, and as others have noted, in contrast to most posts on MDA which connect directly to supporting studies, none of the links in this article connect do. Mira and Jayson, I suspect you have an important message. I know that you need to be a lot more rigorous in the way you present it to avoid diluting its effect and integrity. You only get one bite of the little red thing…. in this case the cherry.

    Paul R wrote on October 12th, 2012
  11. Great Article Mira!!! I’m sorry to read such crazy hate in the comments here. It looks like a few of Mark’s readers are enjoying a bit too much of that “20%” theory with the personal attacks shown here. Lighten up people!! I have interacted plenty with the Calton’s and their knowledge and years of nutrition study are quite on point.

    Many obviously take things far to literally and failed to see the simplicity in explaining her post, because you’re too caught up on trying to mimic Grok 100,000 years ago, and because of that you fail to see the message.

    I know for a fact that Mira and Jayson are extremely helpful and caring people doing far more to help this world eat better, help people understand what they are eating, why they should eat it, and should share that knowledge with others. They do more for the Primal/Paleo community than any troll with a cracker jack science certificate who thinks he knows what the hell Grok did 100,000 years ago.

    Dr. Bacon wrote on October 12th, 2012
  12. Since I went Primal I’ve made an effort to eat seasonally. Apart from being cheaper, it makes sense that nature would provide what we need at any given time of the year.

    Kitty =^..^= wrote on October 12th, 2012
  13. If I cyclically added fat and then burned it off every year, my waist measurement would change through the year. It would be a hassle to keep the right sized clothes in my wardrobe!

    I’m not saying the post is wrong, just that it would be an inconvenient truth.

    Ion Freeman wrote on October 12th, 2012
  14. Apples are an old world fruit brought to the US by Europeans, there were no apples in Mn 100,000 years ago. It’s really only been in the last 140 years that the U of Minnesota has developed winter hearty Minnesota eating apples I think. The apple harvest is also more a late summer thing than a fall thing. This is heading into game hunting season, which is way after wild rice and berry season. The premise may or may not be valid, but the knowledge of traditional food gathering is pretty rudimentary I think.

    Rachael wrote on October 12th, 2012
  15. Wow, this is the most impressive backlash I’ve ever seen on this site.

    Having said that, I was excited to read this article because I expect so much scientific evidence that my eyes glaze over, in true MDA fashion. I felt like I just read an advertisement for a book, and that’s not why I come to this site.

    The concept is so intriguing because I eat seasonally as a natural result of eating Primal, but I don’t experience seasonal weight fluctuations — I experience holiday weight fluctuations. I was hoping for more evidence and less story-telling.

    Deanna wrote on October 13th, 2012
  16. Just my N=1, I didn’t read too much into the article. I have no interest in their website or book (sorry, guys, no offense!). I have weighed daily for over 2 years. I know the numbers aren’t accurate but the scale shows body fat and body water %. I use an armband that shows calories burned. I don’t overeat and I don’t do huge bouts of exercise. However, my carb/sugar intake is off and on so my weight fluctuates up constantly – usually within 3-6lbs. My ancestry is all northern Europe with some Native American thrown in (I do have a genetic carb sensitivity – family diabetes). What I have noticed the last two years is that in the summer carbs make me retain water. But something happens in September – still warm in VA. Instead of water retention it seems to switch over to fat retention and to keep that from happening I have to really dial in the carbs. I can only assume that this is my imagination because there are other aspects that play into this observation but it does make me wonder…

    Heather wrote on October 13th, 2012
    • And I do trust Mark’s judgement so I’m not putting much into the backlash either. Does make for interesting reading though.

      Heather wrote on October 13th, 2012
  17. As the weather cools and the daylight hours are shorter, I noted recently that my shorts were more snug than usual. Stepped on a scale to discover a small weight gain. No changes in exercise and paleo diet. Since I can’t grow a thicker coat of hair, it appears my body adapts by creating a fat insulating layer. Wonder if wearing a warmer jacket would have any effect on this weight gain. :-)

    Lloyd wrote on October 15th, 2012
  18. Paleo isn’t a fixed “diet-plan” for me. I have made everything heavily processed (bar some dairy), most processed foods (bar a few “minimalistically” jarred and canned things and, obviously, butchered meat!) and live off meat, fruit, veg, nuts, dairy and the odd tin of fish or piece of mildly sweetened marzipan.

    I eat what is cheap, which is usually seasonal, but sometimes just keeps well.

    Within my own limits, I eat whatever I want, as much as I want, whenever I want. My body seems to have an “I’m full” point at 1800 kcal, but is currently demanding more sugars. It asks, it gets: more nuts, squash, pumpkin, apples and dates. Seems to be working just fine here. No need to mess around calorie-counting OR seeing what’s the “right” food today.

    Eat what your body asks for, it knows best. Just my tuppence. :p

    Alice wrote on October 17th, 2012
    • **I have ELIMINATED everything heavily processed (…)

      Damn me and tiredness. 😛 Need some sleep after this reading…

      Alice wrote on October 17th, 2012
  19. People you all need to relax a little bit. I didn’t read anywhere that it was a fact there were apples in MN. It was just a simple example along the lines of explaining something to your children. Quit trying to show off your intelligence (or ignorance) and read it for what it is some information to take and digest, it just may help you.

    Mike wrote on October 17th, 2012
    • We aren’t children, though, are we…

      Camdilla wrote on October 17th, 2012
  20. Wow, this article is good, my sister is analyzing such things,
    so I am going to inform her.

    frying wrote on November 30th, 2012
  21. I am measuring this article by my usual yardstick – my personal experience. It makes sense in that context. I ALWAYS get hungrier at late fall/early winter, and I generally gain an extra five pounds each winter, and drop them in the spring. Of course, I know that I don’t need to store too much fat to survive our modern winter, but it is good to know that others see the same trend.
    I tend to hit my root vegetables pretty heavily at this time of year. This year, my favorite is parsnips, which are absolutely FABULOUS when fried in bacon fat!!!

    Marge wrote on December 10th, 2014
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