Why We Need to Change How We Move, Eat, Sleep, and Connect Based on Each Season for Optimal Mental, Brain, and Physical Health (Interview with Whole 30 Co-Founder Dallas Hartwig)
We love celebrating the different seasons, whether it’s the coziness of fall and the anticipation of those winter holidays, or the excitement of summertime and backyard get togethers with loved ones. But did you know that your mental and physical wellbeing is also seasonal? In this podcast (episode #215) and blog, I speak with Whole30 co-founder and N.Y. Times bestselling author Dallas Hartwig about the importance of living seasonally, tips to exercise, sleep and eat better, the importance of listening to your body, why having a purpose is so important for your mental and physical health, and more!
As Dallas notes in his new book, The Four Season Solution, over the course of human history our bodies have learnt how to adapt to different temperatures and the daily cycles of light and dark. We have inherent, biological “seasons”, and when we learn to start listening to this internal wisdom again, we can profoundly shift the way we live and the way we think about our selves and our lives in the long term.
There are a lot of seasonal things we can integrate into our lives in the modern world that can enrich our health and wellbeing. When we start tapping into our innate physiology, we can improve the quality of our lives in accordance with the changing ecosystems we live in. We can get better at living transitionally, and adapting and changing to meet our different needs during the year. We don’t have to spend all our time obsessing over one way of eating/sleeping/living!Indeed, the more you learn to listen to your body and what you feel, the more your body will direct you to the place you need to go.
As Dallas discusses in his book, there are four main components to living seasonally:
This means eating more seasonal and local foods in your area. Some great ways to do this is to grow your own food, shop at farmer’s markets, or sign up for a local produce box. For more tips on eating real food seasonally, see my book Think and Eat Yourself Smart.
Modern life has disrupted our circadian rhythm, especially with the absence of natural bright light during the day and too much artificial light at night. This has put our bodies into a “chronic summer mode”; we are constantly stressed, filled with adrenaline—we are always “on”. Many of us never contract or go into rest mode; we wired in 24/7.
Natural light/dark cycles are incredibly important for optimum brain and body function and sleep. For example, serotonin responds to natural light, which boosts our mood; the body is made to respond positively to these light cycle, while bright light early in the morning and darkness before bed can really improve our sleeping patterns, so that we don’t feel “tired but wired” all the time.
So, if you battle sleeping at night, try match your experiences as closely as possible to what is going on in the natural world around you, insofar as your schedule allows. For more on sleep and mental health, see my blogand podcast (episode #97).
Movement is about more than just exercise. It includes body postures and positions, as well as the reintroduction of functional low intensity movements throughout the day, that is widely varied movements like walking, hiking, carrying a heavy bag of groceries (a form of resistance training), playing with your kids and so on. Movement is also seasonal. In the colder months, shorter bursts of high intensity movements are important, because we are moving less during the day.
For more on movement and mental health, see my blog and podcast (episode #139).
Connection is an incredibly important part of our mental and physical wellbeing. This includes connection to self (our inner wisdom, the ability to be still, and to have self-awareness and the ability to self-regulate), to place (a sense of home/rootedness), to others, and to a purpose (contributing to something greater than ourselves, which positively impacts our quality of life and longevity).
If you feel lonely, isolated and without purpose, start small. Be more present with the few people that really matter to you, which will help you experience a deep sense of belonging and rootedness. Don’t just have superficial, “social media friend” connections with lots of different people around you. When it comes to connection, quality is far more important than quantity.
At the end of the day, we need to remember that our biological systems are not binary—they do not turn on and off like a light switch. Our bodies need time to transition, which is why we need to be physiologically informed, listening to the wisdom embedded in our biology. Living well and changing according to the seasons doesn’t have to be complicated or stressful; we have all the knowledge we need inside of us!
Many of us in the modern world are overwhelmed, overstimulated and tired. We have built a world that is good for productivity, not people. This is why it is so important that we deliberately and consciously take time to switch off and listen our body, allow ourselves to once again go through the seasons of life and find balance between work and rest.
Even our mental health is seasonal and needs periods of “down”! Slowing down and feeling a bit “flat” during the colder and darker months is actually a “natural” part of our seasonal human cycle, but because we are always “on” it affects us more because the feelings are often cumulative. This can result in mental ill-health and diagnoses of seasonal depression. Instead of suppressing or ignoring these feelings, we need to hear these biological messages and listen to their call too to slow down and rest! There should be a place for sadness, grief, slowing down, processing, or feeling flat in our lives. We cannot always be high, happy or “on”.
For more on seasonal living and mental health, listen to my podcast with Dallas (episode #215), and check out his website and his new book. If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing! And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media (don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
For more mental self-care tips to improve your mental health, pre-order my new book 101 Ways to be Less Stressed, which is now on sale at 20% off!
You can also check out my app SWITCH, which is a great tool for helping you learn how to manage your mind, deal with the roots of your mental distress, and overcome thought patterns and behaviors that impact your wellbeing through the mental process of reconceptualization.
3:29 How seasonal living can improve our mental and physical health
9:44 Why too much artificial light negatively affects our wellbeing
15:40 How to learn how to listen to your body’s needs
17:11 The 4 keys of seasonal living
32:00 The difference between cravings and longing
33:02 How has modern life disrupted our biology?
37:00 How the seasons affect our hormones
41:29 Tips to live more seasonally and improve your health
48:50 Seasonal depression, mental illness and the modern world
54:00 The importance of rest for your mental health
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