A thousand years ago, when the human gene pool was a thousand years less experienced than it is now, winter was a time of eating less, rather than more.
Nowadays, we share special treats and delicacies during the chilly months of winter. We all have our favorites, whether home-baked pies or imported specialties, but many of these celebratory foods and beverages are all too generous in their provision of calories. This wintertime enjoyment of edible bounty lifts our spirits, but for future health, it’s important to remember that winter is also an important time for bodily renewal.
PS—this is not about cutting calories.
What Winter Means to our Bodies
Winter is the time after harvest, when the earth rests, nightfall arrives earlier, days grow colder, plants send their energy into their roots, and some animals go into hibernation in order to conserve energy. Even the microbial communities in us and in the soil outside undergo changes! Throats and lungs may be more prone to infection, and infections are more prone to be shared.
What Winter Means to our Genes
Let’s think about winter and its eating patterns according to how they affect cellular rejuvenation: the normal way our bodies run health updates and get rid of old or damaged cells that limit our feeling of energy and vitality.
Historically speaking, having a meager wintertime cupboard provided human bodies with the opportunity to restore better function by performing a deep renewal — simply because they had fewer calories to deal with, and more time to devote to rejuvenation. For more on rejuvenation, check out this posting. In other words, for many people, winter was a time that challenged immunity yet also created prime conditions for effective rejuvenation. Especially harsh winters also encouraged the sharing of modest food stores and windfalls, which affirmed social ties (that can positively influence immunity) and feelings of thanksgiving.
Whenever calorie intakes increase or decrease, our bodies adjust their metabolic use of energy. Our genes take note of good times and bad, but in our collective past, occasions of reduced food supply (due to weather, predators, spoilage, crop failure, and other causes) have been more numerous and impactful. Persons whose ancestors were affected by events like these have powerful genetic memories of such times, and respond to feasting and dieting in highly individualized ways, both physically and psychologically.
Balancing Winter Bounty with Renewal Opportunities
Great news: it’s entirely possible to celebrate the unique (and sometimes high-calorie) gifts of the winter season while also honoring our bodies’ need for rejuvenation. It just takes some planning:
• Keep a moderate “eating window” of around 8-10 hours on most days, as long as you’re medically good to go with that. Then, unless you have specific metabolic health issues, it’s generally all right to make exceptions to this rule of health on those extra-special days.
• Taking a high-quality omega-3 supplement helps keep your cells alert for rejuvenation opportunities. It’s especially good if your supplement also provides generous levels of pro-resolving mediators (PRMs), because these rare food fats also train your immune system for better balance. For more on omega-3s, check out this posting.
• Enjoy foods rich in fiber and plant polyphenols (like berries and Himalayan Tartary Buckwheat) each morning, to satisfy your appetite and feed the beneficial immune-active microbes in your gut microbiome. What’s a gut microbiome? Read all about it in this posting. What the heck are polyphenols? This posting provides more detail.
• Devote regular time to exercise and all the other flavors of physical activity. Intense exertion — the kind that generates steam and sweat — is another natural way of triggering rejuvenation. For more on how physical activity benefits immune function, check out this posting.