With sustainability in mind, I try look at what humans have done long-term, not how things have been since the industrial revolution or the past few years. In places with cold winters, our ancestors practically hibernated through the winter. Even in the last century, people were forced to stay at home or on the farm (without electric lighting, mind you) when roads were too snowy or rainy to travel on, and the main foods were local foods – meat from animals hunted or raised, vegetable foods that stored well, like grain, dried beans, and hard-shell winter squashes, cheeses, beer, wine and other fermented foods and drinks.
These are rich foods – not necessarily what we think of as ‘health foods’, but there is wisdom in these traditional winter foods in the form of dense nutrients, and in Ayurvedic terms, we want more heavy, moist, warm and stable qualities in fall and winter to help anchor us to the earth and counteract the chill and the wind. (You can also bet that nobody was eating salads, smoothies, or other cold, light foods during winter – that is a modern practice for sure!)
The trick is quality ingredients and portions. In terms of meat and dairy, quality is particularly important – you can ‘vote with your wallet'; support local farmers and ranchers who are raising animals as close to nature as they are able. Of course it costs more, and it is worth every penny in terms of your health, the animals’ quality of life, and sustaining a local economy.
And portions. Oh, portions. They are a challenge for most people – if something tastes good, we usually want to eat more of it. Imagine though, if you will, living in a time in which your family/tribe/village’s food supply had to last through the winter or you faced the real possibility of starvation. You would have to watch your portions, not to be ‘good’ or maintain a certain weight, but because it was a matter of survival for everyone.
So, the food might have been rich and nutritious, but it was in limited supply. And that, as far as I can tell, is the secret to a healthy winter diet. Rich, warm, cooked, nutritionally dense foods, in smaller portions.
In Ayurveda, we say to eat until you are satisfied but not full. (Could you eat more? Sure. Do you need to? No.) That, my friends, is the sweet spot. This is the most direct way to achieve or maintain a healthy weight, and an important way to support healthy digestion, even for people who are thin. (Because the stomach has to churn to get the most out of our food, and it can’t do that very well if it is crammed completely full.) We eat until we are satisfied but not full by slowing down and enjoying our food, so we stay present in the body and notice when we reach that sweet spot. It takes practice. If this is new to you, don’t expect to master it immediately.
So, many of us have access to an overabundance of foods from all over the world, and don’t have the option of hibernating to the degree our ancestors did, even if we wanted to. But, we can choose what and how much we eat, what we do in our free time, what time we go to bed, etc. We can definitely invite in a quality of turning inward and allow for reflection and relaxation, especially on these evenings when the sun sets so early.
Here are some time-tested ideas for nourishing, device-free, winter fun:
~ Play a game of backgammon or chess (by the fire is nice)
~ Learn a new song or two on your guitar/flute/etc. (or learn an instrument; no one is too old) and serenade the lucky people you live with, or visiting friends.
~ Bake something delicious. (This has the side benefit of warming up the house)
~ Have a hot bath with epsom salts and some essential oils (10 drops of lavender is nice)
~ Read books aloud with your loved ones. Choose a short, sweet book to start and see how it goes. I like to read myths and legends in this way, but anything is fair game. (A headlamp is good to have for this activity.)
~ Self- or partner- massage with warmed sesame oil is a classic Ayurvedic practice and Ayurvedic practitioners have been recommending it to their patients since forever. So nourishing and relaxing on so many levels! You can spend five minutes or two hours; you can do it every day or just whenever you think of it – whatever you want, and there is really no way to do it incorrectly as long as you are paying attention to your body or your partner’s body.
~ In a place you can easily see, build an alter that expresses your connection to Spirit. Light a candle there on dark evenings when you are home.
by Mollie Moorhead