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!

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130 thoughts on “Fall Foods: Why Seasonal Eating Primes the Body for Fat Burning”

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    1. Same here. I think we have evolved enough to know to avoid foods that will cause us to gain weight and continue to exercise. We aren’t ACTUALLY cavemen, we have other resources at our disposal to keep ourselves warm (least of all a home and blankets if not actual indoor heating in most cases) and one who would pretend that we don’t, I would see as foolish.

      1. Isn’t the whole premise behind paleo and primal living that we are in fact cavemen? Meaning that genetically, we are pretty much the same as paleolithic humans and that it’s our modern lifestyles and eating habits that are making us sick. If we buy into the idea that eating is simple and that it should be based on whole foods that were available (or as close as possible) to our ancestors, then doesn’t it make sense to try and eat seasonally, even if it means a little extra padding during the coldest/leanest part of the year? Nobody’s suggesting a daily diet of pumpkin pie, cornbread stuffing, or piles of mashed potatoes. But if things like squash, apples, and root veggies are the most available and storable foods during this time of year, it seems healthier to eat these than to continue trying to eat the foods that were plentiful during the spring and summer. Remember too that in cold weather, the human body burns a ton of energy just to stay at 98.6. A little outdoor exercise in cold weather (like shoveling snow, building a snowman, raking leaves, etc) probably goes a long way toward mitigating the effects of a few extra carbs.

    2. We would not necessarily suggest you put on pounds unless you have plateaued and are looking to reset. Also, any extra weight put on would still be from the very same dietary guidelines you are already eating, not off paleo!

  1. This article reaffirms what I have experienced for a long time, albeit in smaller sample sizes. That is, sometimes I go on a non-primal, carb-loaded food binge for a day or two, and usually feel pretty crappy and bloated. I look in the mirror and it looks like my progress from the past 3 weeks is gone. But then, after just 3 or 4 days of going back to primal (often staying in ketosis, with one day being a fast), I feel and look even better than I did before the binge.

    1. Keep in mind that your water weight can fluctuate the scale and also your look in the mirror. You cannot possibly gain 5 lbs of fat after a day or two of bad eating. Hence, the reason when you cut the carbs, the body sheds water and the ‘bloat’ goes away.

    2. haha this always happens to me too. I assumed that it was just because I was looking/feeling good, then looked/felt crappy for a few days so when i felt good again it just felt better.

    3. Interesting! I think that lack of mixing things up may stop many folks from progressing. Humans don’t seem to be machines that are supposed to be eating the same things every day and having the same amounts of exercise. There are a variety of tools at our disposal to mix things up and it looks like a carb re-feed works for you!

    1. I felt similiar but after reading your thoughtful and classy reply I’m giving you guys a chance. 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to respond.

      1. Apart from the inaccurate historical reference, the authors of the post seem to be explaining the linguistic change based on the contemporary usage of “fall” in American English, but there were few speakers of American English in the 1500s… “Fall” was indeed displaced by the 1500s but by “Autumn”, the word still used in British English. Researchers especulate it comes from the Latin Auctus+Annus and means the season of abundance, or harvest. Having said that, fascinating post! I’m looking forward to reading the book.

        1. The original inaccuracy here was the generalization of a word not being used which still is since we have harvest festival in almost every school coupled to a date that is accepted in British history to be 1700- 1725 onwards so the 1500 date being too early and then the subsequent sentence regarding Industrialisation which appears to be linked nothing a few changes would not solve it does not mean that the conclusions about seasonality are wrong. I would be interested on the authors thoughts on the spread of trade compounding the issues of seasonality too.

          Indeed we still use the term Autumn here in the UK. I can only speak about my knowledge and deductions of British history I am afraid.

          It is true that the Industrial Revolution that started from the 1700’s and was as much a catastrophe for the overall health of people as the changes the Agricultural Revolution all those thousands of years ago started.

          However it should be noted that the late 1400’s through the 1600’s gave rise to the exploration of the globe (Christopher Columbus, Sir Walter Raleigh and Co.) at which time we find an interesting player crop (pardon the pun)up more and more in the decline of human health – It came from the new world – Yes, you guessed it Sugar Cane. (Yes it had been traded for centuries before but in an even more limited manner.) To start with it was only really available to the rich as its procurement, refinement was costly and specalised. Post the industrial revolution and onward into the 19th Century ports town/ cities had sugar mills producing refined sugar available to the ‘masses’ for baking and the British obsession with Cakes and afternoon tea began in earnest. Can any one say ‘Scones Vicar?’

        2. Good point on the dates here – it seems that while the word was changed from harvest to fall in the 1500’s it did not become less relevant to most people until near the end of the 1700’s as the industrial revolution gained steam. We just though a little history on the word would be fun, thanks for the correction. Here is our reference:

          “However, during the period after the Scandinavians (who spoke Old Norse) settled in England (between 800 and 1100 CE) their word “fall” was borrowed into English and replaced the Old English word “fyll”. There are many other Old Norse which were borrowed into English at this time. But the word “fall” only came to refer to the season “Fall” in the 1500s. Before the 1500s, this season was often called “Harvest”. In fact, the name “Harvest” was used for this season quite commonly up until the end of the 1700s, after which the word “harvest” began to apply more specifically of the gathering of crops. Before the 1700s, most English-speaking people had occupations which had to do with farming, and “Harvest” was quite an appropriate name for this season when the crops were gathered in. However, after the Industrial Revolution beginning in the 1700s, fewer people were working on and around farms–in our times, most English-speaking people do not work in farming. So it is easy to see why the word “harvest” became less popular as a season name.” – https://hea-www.harvard.edu/ECT/Words/index.html

      1. Thank you for the source reference. It is interesting that Fall is originally a Norse term. There were and still are lots of references in the UK to harvest in Autumn (Fall). The harvest festival at Church and in most schools, which I mentioned previously but also when I was growing up in a Cumbrian village by the sea (near the lake district)the half term at the end of October was referred to as ‘Tatty Picken Week’. Or to translate into main stream English ‘Potato Picking Week’, as everyone was to go out to the fields and help dig up the potatoes this was still happening as late as the 1930’s if not longer in the more rural communities. So seasonal food based activities never really go away.

  2. This comes at just the right time for me. I have successfully lost over 50 pounds since December 2012. For over the past month, I have plateaued and I am currently at 5 pounds above the minimum weight I achieved.

    I had a feeling that this was related to autumn, and it seemed natural, but it is nice to have some confirmation of it.

    I am going to take this as encouragement not to stress over it. (I do need to watch my tendency to sweeten my hot beverages that I have started to consume due to the cooler weather.)

    1. We are happy to help reduce your stress on this issue. Remember, stress can trigger weight gain, and if by relieving your emotional stress, we can reduce your bodies tendencies to lock down weight then fall is working for you in an additional way as well. We caution you however to remain aware of this weight gain as you indicated you are, and not let it get out of control. This is not carte blanche to hit the fast food or get greedy with grains! Great job!

  3. This is an awesome post that covers a lot about the seasonal nature of healthy living. I really enjoyed the carb re-feed analogy at the end to really tie it all together

  4. Great article! I tend to eat in season because that is how I get fruits and vegetables te cheapest. I can’t afford to eat out of season fruit.

  5. “Isn’t that what the fall season did for our ancestors for eons?”

    Well no, because most of homo sapien’s evolution occurred in Africa where there is no “fall.” Some populations that left Africa and possibly hybridized with other hominids might have some seasonal adaptations to cold weather.

    1. Define eon. Google says “An indefinite and very long period of time”. In my mind, the time my ancestors spent outside of Africa qualifies.

      Does Africa not have seasons? I was not aware of that.

      My ancestors had enough time to lose the melanin that inhibited their vitamin D production. I wouldn’t be surprised if they also gained a heightened response to food availability and winter.

      1. Yes, there are seasons in Africa, but there is no season like autumn in New York/Chicago/ etc. A good book on this subject is “Seasonality in Primates: Studies of Living and Extinct Human and Non-Human Primates.” I think the subject is very interesting, but considering our species range it would not be very surprising to see all kinds of adaptations to different climates/seasons. But it would be pretty individual.

        1. We could also look at all people who live near the equator (not just in Africa) and near the poles. The seasons have very little variation.

        2. Thanks for the reference. Unfortunately a $75 book just isn’t in the budget. I understand that the original post was essentially an advertisement for the Caltons’ upcoming book, but I hope that the final product does have references to things like the book you cite Melissa. I assume that the Seasonality book includes consideration of the fact that much of the last million years+ has been immensely colder than present. Is it possible that Africa had more of a “fall” than it does now?

          I suspect that mammals in general have evolved over millions of years to “fatten up” in the ripening season, but I would like to see if there is any science to support that hypothesis.

          I think the individualism here is important and frequently overlooked. The thing that really opened my eyes to this was the AtoZ study where they found that people have vastly different responses to low-carb/fat diets based on (as I recall) their glucose sensitivity.

        3. Melissa, climate was very different throughout the world for a large part of our evolution. It is entirely feasible that the climate of North America today was present in large regions of Africa for 1-1.5 million years. Regions do change (remember when the Fertile Crescent was fertile?).

        4. Sorry but I live in Africa (South Africa, and used to live in Kenya) and there are season. Right now it’s spring over here. We even have snow sometimes in our South African winters. I can’t wait for summer to arrive so I can eat local mangos and blueberries again. As Kenya is right by the equator the seasons differ less but you also have seasons.

        5. That book is available from almost any library through interlibrary loan. I’m pretty sick of people telling me they can’t read science because it’s too expensive when my taxes go to pay for libraries…

          Also, I never said Africa didn’t have seasons. And there have been cooler periods, but there is no evidence Africa had the kind of seasons like those of us in Chicago/Sweden/etc. experience.

      2. It’s a good thing Melissa made this point because too often I see comments in the Paleo community that assume these kind of adaptions to the scarcity/cold of winter and the abundance/warmth of summer despite the bulk of human evolutionion haven taken place in equatorial regions that don’t have the four seasons.

        Even with migration, adaption will only occur with selection pressures, which due to fire/clothing and more advanced hunting techniques, may have not been strong enough to ellicit changes.

        There may be adaptations, but we shouldn’t assume there are.

    2. Thank you Melissa for introducing the only bit of biological science that appears on this particular page( I’m a huge MDA fan, but this let me down) . The lack of studies , whether epidemiological or clinical, in this article is sad – this seems to be written by the kind of guru that jack kruse would agree with.

    3. They do have wet and dry seasons in the equator, which would impact food availability, albeit in a very different way than fall & winter. I’d like to see how many equatorial cultures they studied before I’d pass judgement on their findings.

      1. Yes, I am curious too. They had an article about industrial nitrates on their site yesterday that was pretty good.

        1. I think, if anything, their research will show that humans are pretty well evolved to deal with periods of feast and famine. Considering what Mark has posted about fasting, we might even be so evolved towards it that ping-ponging between the two is healthier for us than being in a perpetual state of calories utilized = calories used.

        2. Melissa, Thanks for liking the post on nitrates. We generally are more analytical and use more research. In fact there are 19 pages of reference for studies in Naked Calories,. However, we just wanted this to be a sneak peak and leave it a bit vague so as not to let the cat out of the bag so to speak. Perhaps this audience expected more science and less theory. Will keep in mind!

    4. Also, there were no apples in Minnesota 10,000 years ago. Apples originated in Asia and were brought to North America by European colonists.

      1. Thank you, that was bugging me, too. I understand the analogy but errors like that detract from the credibility of the primal approach.

        1. I call total BS on this piece. Of course there were no apples in North America 100,000 ago, and no humans either. The earliest date for the migration from Asia may be 16,500 years ago.

          This piece displays the worst misuse of evolution! It tells fake “Just So Stories” instead of offering facts & science. No one should or would believe the Paleo/Primal story based on this kind of garbage.

          Please Mark – science. Proper evolution. Thanks.

    5. Good, glad someone else caught this. It’s always been my argument; even middle eastern countries, where we place our relatively recent Judeo-Christian civilizations, don’t have seasons beyond dry and rainy, coolish and warm. Maybe American Indians would adapt this way, but it only makes sense in a context where winters are cold enough to kill vegetation – what about where summers are hot enough to kill it? I doubt those races want the extra fat in sweltering heat.

  6. One word: Bears.

    More words: Bears have insulin too. Eating sweet foods like berries etc. in autumn has two effects on bears 1) increase hunger 2) maximize fat storage. I think that’s really the primary utility of insulin for humans – WINTER IS COMING.

    1. There’s more to it than insulin in bears. Apparently dopamine plays a role in their weight gain/loss and it’s triggered by the changes in light levels from season to season.

  7. All well and good, but we live in modern times. We don’t depend on animal skins and an open fire in a cave or a teepee for warmth when the snow is deep outside. The full moon of February was often called the Hunger Moon by many Native American tribes, because most of what they had stored for the winter was gone, including their body fat, and hunting wasn’t good. Now, of course, we have a plethora of foods to choose from and most of us have more than adequate heating systems in our houses and apartments. So I don’t know that going off paleo in the fall to add a few pounds would be all that productive. Unless, of course, you kept the temperature in your house set at 60 degrees and did a lot of outdoor work or exercise in the cold and snow.

    1. Just because a reaction is “natural” doesn’t make it healthy or adaptive (anaphylaxis, anyone?). Also, what might have been natural and appropriate 100K years ago might not be good for us now in our time and place, as this comment pointed out.

      There’s nothing wrong, of course, with enjoying healthy Primal carbs in season – if you’re metabolically healthy, they don’t cause problems for you, and they fit with your life and activity levels. However I get a little nervous when I read a post that tries to legitimize autumn weight gain as natural and perhaps even desirable.

      1. In healthy people, it probably is. If you’re overweight and have metabolic syndrome, then probably not. It’s not like their talking about going off Paleo and eating Thanksgiving cakes and pies until you put on 20 pounds. They’re saying eat a few apples and some sweet potatoes and don’t freak out if you gain 5 pounds in during the next four or five months.

        1. I’m fine with the apples and sweet potatoes. They’re all good – for metabolically healthy people and in moderation. It’s the legitimization of even a 5 pound fat gain from overeating on them that struck me as odd.

          We shouldn’t get hung up on relatively small weight fluctuations, of course, but in these times there’s no reason that I can see to endorse fat gain from overeating. For me, at least, I know those 5 pounds of fat wouldn’t come off during a low-carb winter of IF as I struggle to survive on the frozen tundra. And what’s the use of “priming” yourself for fat burning if you’re just en up burning off the same old 5 pounds you put back on every autumn?

          Go ahead and eat healthy Primal carbs – if you’re metabolically healthy, they don’t cause you problems, and they fit with your life and activity levels. More importantly, if you like them, enjoy them! Now’s the time! But if you start gaining fat from overeating on them, just consider dialing it down a little.

    2. they are not advocating “going off paleo” – they are simply reminding us that seasonal weight gain is normal and modern humans should stop trying to fight it by trying to exercise off that extra helping of sweet potatoes.

      I think the take-away is continue to eat primally, move, lift heavy things.. but don’t sweat the extra few pounds because we’re genetically programmed for it.

    3. Many homes here in NorCal are heated with kerosene, and kerosene prices run pretty damned close to gasoline prices. We’ll probably be keeping the house pretty close to 60 degrees this winter. Walking the dog, shoveling snow…. I won’t worry about 5 or 10 more pounds.

  8. This wouldn’t apply to city/civilized folk. If anything this article was written to comfort people who gave into cravings too easily. Let’s also remember that this article said “big, red things,” apples i’m assuming…NOT pastries. Either way, i’m sure the ripped, less than 10% bodyfat individuals were most likely skilled hunters who collected animal furs which kept them warm in the winter months. Let the weaker hunters get fat on carbs while real predators feast on mastadon fat.

    1. Yeah.. God forbid someone actually give in to cravings occasionally, we should shun them, not comfort them.

      All tribes are different 🙂

    2. I think that’s a gross misinterpretation of the article. No where do they say, “get fat on carbs.” They say eat carbs that are seasonally available and don’t freak out if you gain 5 pounds over the span of the next few months.

      I don’t know too many normal people that can sit at less than 10% body fat their whole life, even on a Paleo diet. I personally know several professional body builders that swear by Paleo, and they sit at a higher percent and then dramatically cut their composition for competitions.

  9. I’ve always gained around 10 pounds in the fall, ususally in October and November, and they ususally disappeared the following spring when I started gardening and camping. I also tend to lose around 15 pounds in the summer when I camp almost every weekend. It does tend to even out so I usually weigh within five pounds in a given month from year to year.

  10. Perhaps in our modern era it’s more a case of the holidays putting on a layer of fat than the season itself. Maintaining a paleo lifestyle can get to be a challenge with all that Thanksgiving and Christmas comfort food that you grew up with and loved.

    I’ve learned to minimize the issue with plain baked sweet potatoes (no candied goo), a large salad, and simply-prepared fresh veggies. Turkey and ham are served plain with no sweet toppings. I do provide stuffing, mashed potatoes and barely-thickened gravy for those who want it, so as not to be seen as a total scrooge by my family. They’ve gotten used to what they call my “dumbed down” Thanksgiving dinners, although someone usually sneaks in a pecan pie, which I choose to ignore.

  11. I’ve always believed there was a subtle perfection in spending autumn weekends watching football and drinking beer. But I could never explain it until now. Thank you, Mira and Jayson, thank you.

    /wipes tear

    1. +1. Pop a cold one for me, too. I’ve made gallons of no sugar added big red things sauce, and I intend to eat it.

    2. I’ve recently traded some gathered herbs for beer so I can drink it moderately. It’s a very useful beverage. It caused me to take a cold shower in the summer and to swim in cold water recently. It was like a hack to get me more acclimated to the cold.

  12. Hey, you stole my idea! I was just explaining to some gym buddies yesterday about my yearly minor weight gain every October. I used to fight it, and I would be constantly freezing until I caved in and let myself gain a few pounds. Now I accept it as a healthy seasonal fluctuation.

  13. What I takeaway from this article is that if you are in a plateau, you might want to think about a carb re-feed to gain a few pounds. And then…(hopefully) your DNA will kick in and say, “We’re not having that!” and you’ll be losing weight again in no time….?

  14. The theory sounds good, but the apple analogy seems weak. Just how many apples would you have to eat to put on a layer of fat? And is that even possible without getting a tremendous belly-ache? Our pediatrician sees several cases every fall of intestinal distress caused by eating too many apples (and I’m sure these kids aren’t eating apples as their only daily sustenance.) I like the idea of eating seasonally and how human metabolism is adapted to it – seems like common sense. I just think harvest was more of everything, like a smorgasboard (or cornacopia!).

  15. Not to be too nitpicky, but there were no humans in Minnesota (or the Americas) 100,000 years ago. Nor were there apples until post-Columbian contact several hundred years ago. Maybe “big red things” describes other tree fruit, but at that latitude there wasn’t much tree fruit during the paleolithic, certainly not during an ice age.

    If we’re going to base our diet on a scientific understanding of evolution, can we agree to use real and meaningful examples?

  16. Hildegard of Bingen wrote 800 years ago that things had their seasons, too. FOr example, she wrote that lamb is good for people to eat in the spring, but that venison is good in the fall and winter. Spring seems to be a detox season with the early radishes and cleansing lettuces that come up. Maybe there really is something to this.

  17. For those protesting that there are no seasons in Africa, or that we evolved in warmer times only, we’ve lived through a number of ice ages before the one 10,000 years ago. Cro-Magnon was around at least 43,000 years ago in very cold places. We probably had time to make some adaptations. Like Joshua said above, we had time to lose selective pressure on melanin production… I can live with the “paleo” label for the approach I’m taking, but I don’t have to believe I’m a perfect replica of my brown-skinned ancestor from 200,000 years ago, say. I do notice my cravings for sweet things goes right up the moment it gets colder and darker. Might be psychological, but this is a fun idea, too.

    1. The whole “lost the melanin” may be a huge misunderstanding – there is no proof that the people who came out of Africa were “negroid” or dark skinned people, lots of people who live in Africa (think North Africa like the Libyans or the Egyptians) are naturally light skinned and it is most likely that it was these people who actually left Africa, not naturally dark skinned people.

      That said, the inaccuracies in this article did put me off quite a lot. Also, do they have to talk to us like we are all 11 years old with cute little stories? Mark always gives us the realities, not cute cartoon stories.

      1. Good point. I certainly cannot assume the skin tone of people on any given continent millenia ago!

  18. I moved to San Diego about 3 years ago from the midwest. I never thought there were much for seasons here until this year. (Guess I finally acclimated) In the last two weeks ‘last runs’ of peaches and nectarines have taken place. Squash is everywhere, and I’ve been all over that stuff! Gotta say eating seasonally definitely tastes good!

  19. Ummm, I’ve got plenty of fat stored for the winter already thankyouverymuch.

    And the type of fat I have stored isn’t the insulating kind anyway.

    And if I need to eat a summer food during the winter to meet my nutrient requirements, so be it.
    Caveman rule #1 — practicality comes first, always.

    1. Good point. I think it’s important to think about how much of this can apply to somebody who is say – 100 lbs overweight. I can see seasonality having somewhat of an impact, but that 100 lbs is WAY more important to my dietary considerations.

    2. I don’t think this article was written for people with metabolic syndrome.

  20. Weight gain may also be an effect of the seasons changing on our hormone levels without respect to the type of food eaten. Animals that hibernate gain fat to prepare for winter even when starved. I would guess some of this is due to the way the changing daylight (Vit D?) or cooler temperatures affect hormones. My hunger and desire for dense starchy food (such as lots of squash) has certainly increased but I also think my body is more predisposed to gain fat at this time of the year regardless of what I actually eat or even my activity level.

  21. This seasonal eating approach sounds true for me … I was getting very lean this summer, staying the same weight but dropping body fat to under 20% (I’m a female) as I enjoyed cycling, running, and swimming, and weekly high intensity/sprint training sessions. I was only eating a couple (very high fat, high calorie) meals a day for most of each week.

    I was never hungry in the morning and preferred to do a 15k cycle instead. For an entire day, I would only want a few berries or nuts, if at all. Only the most water-laden vegetables — cucumbers, lettuces — were appealing, and smaller amounts of protein with lots of oil, butter, and coconut oil.

    Then when the cooler air hit, it’s been back to 3 meals a day, can’t imagine not having a hot meal (omelette) first thing, plus eating some lovely fall vegetables (squash, cooked tomatoes, parsnips) and more nuts in the evening. Exercising a couple of times a week instead of daily because of the constraints of the seasonal routines..

    Still the same weight, but some of it has shifted back to fat —- probably back up to 20-21% body fat.

    What’s nice about the primal blueprint approach is that the fat I’ve gaining is **not** belly fat. It actually feels good to have a little overall layer elsewhere. It doesn’t stress me out because unlike before, when I didn’t know how lose the fat and the low-fat/chronic cardio wasn’t working, now I know the fat will come off and in the meantime I still have energy and health … and I”m cozier in my sweaters!

    1. I am in the exact same position. Nothing has really changed, except that it’s cold out and for some reason, my hunger has shot through the roof, even though I’m working out less. My diet hasn’t even changed that much; I’m still eating a lot of leftover or last harvest summer squash and leafy greens.

      I’m very intrigued by this idea.

  22. “Naked Calories” is an elaborate sales pitch for special vitamin supplements according to some more cynical reviewers on amazon.

    Get fat, drink our supplement and live forever!

    That said they do put forth a very interesting Idea.

  23. The ideas here seem to make a lot of sense – traditionally we probably did gain some weight to enable us to survive throughout the winter.

    And the key takeaway here is important – if we’re following a good diet like primal blueprint, then seeing a small increase in weight does not mean the diet isn’t working, in fact, it may mean just the reverse, i.e., that it is working just perfectly!

    For the most part, I try not to worry about the scale. I just try to eat well, and let my body take care of the rest. Seems to be working 🙂

    Looking forward to reading the book!

  24. Here in southern California the seasons are semi-reversed. The summer is hot and dry (inland, but cool and moist on the coast) and it is the dormant season for native plants. Winter is cool and wet and it is the growing season for native plants. I personally cannot relate all that well to traditional seasons. They are more of an art project from school to me. To me the seasons are Spring (January), Fog (May), Wildfire (September), Rain (November).

    How much are we as biological organisms affected naturally by the seasons we experience? In other words, does our biology respond in a maladaptive way to seasons that are different from the Olduvai Gorge? Or, is responding seasonally an innate thing (good, bad or indifferent) lying within our biology that is triggered by the seasonal light and climate change in the area we live in?

  25. I agree with the concept of seasonality so I appreciate this article and agree with a lot of it, but let’s be real here…nobody is gaining weight during the holiday season because of eating too many apples! (or some other high-sugar yet healthy food). Also, the concept of food “availability” in our modern culture can be quite misleading. Everything is available – just for less or more money. Better to look for what is “supposed to be” available during any given season.

  26. Too many amatuer scientists here, commenting purely to demonstrate their half baked knowledge of human evolution. This negativity makes for a tiresome read. Some of you remind me of the closed minded CW proponents out there denegrating Paleo and primal. How about using a bit of intuition. Isn’t that how you got attracted to primal? It just made basic sense when you read it. It was like switching on a light for me and I didn’t really need the moleculer detail to know I was on the right track. Surely it makes basic sense that when the weather starts to get colder, some system in your body kicks into gear and increases your cravings for carbs and fruits in order to deposit a bit of fat, just for good measure, and that if this happens, you shouldn’t unduly worry or start reducing calories. That was the gist of the article was it not. I have always noticed that my appetite is dramatically reduced in warm climates whereas in cold climates I can eat all day and I tend to want more carbs. I also seem to be leaner in summer than in winter. Life is too short to fly in the face of basic common sense.

    And for the record, of course fruit can be fattening. Unlike other sugars, Fructose is more readily stored as fat because it cannot be stored in muscle tissue. We likely evolved to take advantage of fruit harvests. Those who didn’t fatten up on seasonal fruit would have struggle more through the winter. The ancestors of anyone of Nothern European descent survived incredibly harsh winters for many, many generations. Would in not make sense that those who stored fat more efficiently were more likely to pass on their genes?

  27. It’s spring here in Australia, and right now where I live, it’s snowing! I believe seasonality in diet is important for our nutritional needs, as food in season is generally local, fresh and at it’s best. I don’t buy grapes and cherries from the U.S in winter as they have travelled half way round the world, and they are not in season here. I also think adaptations over time are now somewhat irrelevant as all humans have migrated extensively from there ancestral roots, transplanting to places that bear little resemblance to their original environments. In Australia, indigenous populations have a more nuanced take on seasons, in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions of W.A, it’s not just wet and dry, it’s several seasons that mark the passage of migratory animals and seasonal plants. It’s a lot more complex than overeating at your thanksgiving,

  28. Art Devany used to write about a corollary to this method: starches are a signal that winter’s coming and food is going to be scarce. So pack on the fat and turn down the metabolism.

  29. This ties in with the idea that linoleic acid (omega 6) increases the desirability of fructose (by converting to anandanide and giving us the natural-cannabinoid munchies). Nuts, seeds, and fruits are windfall foods, linoleate and fructose are mainly winfall nutrients, and we are designed to fatten on these. Good before a cold, hungry winter, bad thing to do year-round in airconditioned, food-stocked environments.

  30. This article is disappointing for several reasons:

    1) the blatant advertising pitches for the upcoming books
    2) the utterly unscientific approach to evolution

    Apples aren’t “designed” to get us fat, and Nature possesses no wisdom. Evolution happens by random chance, and the organisms that exist today are simply those that survived to reproduce. The idea that evolution produces ideal solutions is one of the most pervasive misunderstandings out there about biology. It would be great if the authors would inform themselves a bit more about evolutionary biology before promoting themselves as an expert on it.

    1. I have to agree whole-heartedly.

      This type of post turns me off a lot, along with posts saying how great primal protein powder is, when it has got to be one of the most expensive ways of getting protein out there (in addition to being highly insulinogenic and offering no real advantages over ricotta cheese.)

  31. Based on my observations of myself only, I can say that when the days got short in the past that I craved more carbs. I also get cold very easy and looked at it as my body trying to adjust to the coming winter.

    And it was related to length of day. When I was in CA, I did not have this urge. But when I lived in MT and now WA, I definitely had this need to eat carbs.

    This year so far I am not feeling the urge, and it may be because of my new eating habits.

  32. This starts to make a lot of sense if we think about “annual” vitamins/minerals like our ancestors probably did, rather than the daily dosage that we think of today. Maybe our ancestors got their nutrients over the course of the year(s) as the nutrients became available. We modern types created the 24 hour cycle. I’m pretty sure our ancestors didn’t think or eat that way.

  33. I’m surprised by all the negative comments toward this article. I feel that the seasonal approach to eating has some truth to it. Sure we’re not the same as humans 100,000 years ago, we’re spoiled. We don’t have to live in the cold harsh winter. However, isn’t part of the goal of primal living to use Grok as an example? to emulate the daily life of those before us? How is the idea of seasonal eating any different?

  34. i started thinking about this, this year. i thought about how apples are high in fructose and how a lot of fructose causes the body to store fat and how it probably wasnt a coincidence that they are available before winter. very interesting and very cool imo. thanks for a sweet article.

  35. In Australia we over-eat at the end of the year (Southern summer) and in the middle of the year (Southern winter). The first is seasonal (ie Christmas) and the second is also seasonal (ie winter).

    I like the idea of seasonal eating but this upcoming book really needs to iron out the pseudoscience in favour of real science, assessing food consumption by region rather than “apples in Minnesota”. Too parochial I think.

  36. 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.

    1. 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.

  37. “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.)

    1. 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.

  38. 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!

    1. 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.

  39. 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.

  40. 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.

  41. 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.

    1. 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!

  42. 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!

  43. 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.

  44. 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.

  45. 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.

  46. 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.

  47. 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.

  48. 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.

  49. 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.

  50. 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…

    1. And I do trust Mark’s judgement so I’m not putting much into the backlash either. Does make for interesting reading though.

  51. 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. 🙂

  52. 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

    1. **I have ELIMINATED everything heavily processed (…)

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

  53. 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.

  54. 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!!!

  55. In west africa, we over eat alot as eating large is a big part of culture. This has engendered unhealthy food habits, created an obese and over weight generation who believe that been large is the trend of their times., and to the african a thing of pride.

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