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5 essential dieting tips from nature

Jamie recently wrote in to Simple Mom asking, “I’m trying to lose a little baby weight, and wondered if you have ideas for losing weight without going overboard.”

I hear these kinds of questions from so many mothers — “How can we keep ourselves healthy and in top shape while managing the demands and busy lifestyle of raising a family?” All too often, I see women jumping from one diet plan to the next, trying to count the right number of calories, or eat the right combinations of foods in order to lose the weight, feel more energy and regain mental clarity. And time after time, this approach fails and leaves them feeling overwhelmed and deflated.

There must be (and is!) a better way.

Seeing the weight loss and healthy living picture from a different perspective is essential to getting our health back on track. We have become so indoctrinated with the “no pain, no gain” mantra of modern diet regimes, that at first glance, a healthy living perspective that is gentle, loving and affirming feels impotent.

But the truth is, focusing our efforts on nourishing and caring for ourselves dissolves the old patterns and power struggles that we’ve had with food. It frees us up to do what is best for our body and then get on to living with more vitality, energy and focus.

Here are five key principles of healthy living that are sourced from the rhythms and precepts found in nature.

1. Follow the Seasons

Returning to the wisdom built into the harvest is a simple, healthy way to feed your body. When we lived closer to the earth and sourced our survival based on the available foods in each season, this way of eating would have been as intuitive as breathing.

In today’s world, we shop from artificially-lit supermarket aisles that give us an unnatural array of food options all year long.  We have lost the healing benefits of eating foods in the right seasons.

When we are in a cold, dry season, the appropriate foods are those that bring us warmth and moisture. We need this balance to stay well. In spring, when we have excess heaviness from a winter diet, we find the antidote in springtime foods — they naturally cleanse and detoxify.

Without memorizing long lists of do and don’ts, following a seasonal pattern of eating gives your body what it needs naturally and frees up your mental energy away from obsessing about food.

  • Winter foods build, warm and emulsify with vegetables like sweet potato, winter squashes, onion, garlic, coconut, and avocado.
  • Spring foods cleanse, detoxify and lighten through sprouts, salad greens, peas, celery, and spinach.
  • Summer infuses us with nutrient-dense, colorful produce emphasizing the bounty of the year’s harvest, highlighting fresh berries, melons, summer squashes, green leafy salad vegetables, asparagus and broccoli.
  • Fall transitions us from the summer harvest and gets us ready for the building months of winter with warm, yet cleansing foods like apples and pears, dark leafy greens, cabbage and pomegranate.

2. Use the Character of Foods

“No foods are forbidden, except when your body tells you so.” – Lima Ohsawa

baskets of fruit
Photo by Brian Ambrozy

All whole and natural foods (this excludes processed, chemicalized, artificial or sugar laden food products) have an appropriate place in our diets. Some foods in nature are cleansing, and some are building foods. Some are warming and some are cooling. Some are expansive, some are contractive.

Learning how different foods impact our bodies gives us an elegant tool when we begin to feel out of sorts or imbalanced. If you are having a hard time concentrating and focusing, you can use that information to bring in foods or wellness practices that help ground you and regain your focus. In this way we build confidence in listening to ourselves, because our focus is on how we can best nourish ourselves.

Weight loss goals become an opportunity to choose whole foods that will naturally flush fat and toxins from our system and energize our metabolism. — as opposed to a plan full of dos, don’ts and restrictions.

3. Hydration

Think about foods in their natural state. If they are ready to eat, they are mostly high in water content (like fruits and vegetables). If they require cooking (like grains and beans), they absorb and hold water through the cooking process.

Nature’s foods naturally work to hydrate us. Processed foods are often dry and dehydrating. It is built into nature’s design to keep us well hydrated.

Drinking enough water is essential in our efforts to regain our healthy energy, weight, and moods back. Check out this post for some ways to stay hydrated.

4. Experience the Elements

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to the body.” – John Muir

One of the ruts we can get into when leading busy, overbooked lives is to disengage from nature. Shallow breathing, lack of physical movement, tightness from cramped posture and excessive sitting, artificial light from indoor and screen sources, stuffy recycled air… all of these things keep us from maintaining wellness.

One of the suggestions I often give clients who are nature-starved is to take their lunch outside. Once, for a woman who ate her lunch in the car every day, I asked her to park the car in a nearby park looking out at the trees and scenery and to give herself a few minutes simply looking at nature while she ate. After months of counseling, this was one of the shifts she credits most to helping her regain control of her eating habits and begin to lose weight.

When we connect to nature all throughout the year, we benefit. We receive the necessary oxygen from the fresh air and exposure to direct sunlight. We engage, stretch and energize our body when we take physical activity outdoors, even for a ten-minute brisk walk. We gain mental balance and renewal from seeing the colors, smells, and changes of the seasons.

Nature is an essential part of our wellness routine–too often overlooked and ignored in a busy modern lifestyle.

5. Take Food Out of Center Stage

baby bird
Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt

This may be the most important lesson of all. We have become a people thoroughly obsessed with food. We think about it all the time. What should I eat? What should I not eat? Why did I just eat that? What’s for dinner? We read countless books on diets, nutrition and ways of eating, trying to make sense of it all and to find that magic bullet that will be the “perfect” diet.

We were never meant to think about food this much. But our internal focus on food is such a hard mental habit to break.

Gently, but persistently retraining our thoughts away from food is essential to having a healthy relationship with it— it was never meant to have that much power in our lives, and it creates imbalance and stress when it takes center stage in our priorities.

Each of the above four principles will naturally shift food into its appropriate place.

  • Eating seasonally keeps our food choices simple and enjoyable— it removes the need for complicated diet plans or calorie counting, and gives us permission to enjoy all types of foods in their time throughout the year.
  • Using food as a positive, helpful tool to keep us balanced shifts our thoughts away from foods we can’t have to what foods we can have. This subtle change releases the mental obsession and bingeing that can happen when we focus on restricting foods (ever told yourself “no more desserts,” and found the only thing you thought about all day was dessert?).
  • Keeping well-hydrated prevents us from misreading thirst cues for hunger cues, which we often mistaken for one another.
  • Getting into nature gives us an opportunity every day to have clarity of mind and to feel uplifted and energized. Many times we eat to manage mental dullness, boredom or energy lulls.

Sometimes it is simply a change of lens that is required to begin seeing things in a different light. Consider the ways you’ve gone about managing your health, weight and mood. Could it be that a gentle perspective shift makes all the difference in your journey?

If you’re interested in learning more about how food can be used to cleanse and detoxify, I invite you to read more about my ebook, The Real Food Cleansing Guide.

What about you? Have you learned ways to best nourish yourself that are reflected within the design of nature? What principles of healthy living do you adhere to?

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  1. Jen

    Great tips! What would you suggest, however, for those of us who live where there is NO winter? I live in the tropics where it is a pretty constant 90-95 degrees all year. It occasionally (for like, 2 days) drops to about 80, and then we have about 3-4 months of 100… though that *does* come with rain.

    Needless to say, it’s difficult to eat fruit ALL the time! As much as I love it 😉

    I’m excited to hear what you and your readers might suggest 🙂
    .-= Jen´s last blog ..Struggles… =-.

  2. Lo

    I can not agree more. I have a 14 month old baby girl and not only I lost all the baby weight but I also lost some more (but i don’t wanted to loose this last part). I gained a whooping 39 pounds during my pregnancy. The big tip here is go with the nature, follow and eat what is in season and I rarely eat just for eating. I try to enjoy what I eat. In my house it is just me, my husband and the baby girl, no one helps me with the chores, cooking and stuff. I found it very easy to loose the baby weight since it is quite tiring to take care of everything. Also…just follow you natural rhythms, follow what you body wants. If you were not skinny before having the baby you don’t have to expect to be skinny after giving birth to one.

  3. Micha

    Thank you for this very interesting post! I try to follow the seasonal food-thing, but always have a bit problem to remind me drinking water. I agree, that it’s very healthy to go out of the house as often as possible, especially for kids, who stuck on the couch.
    .-= Micha´s last blog ..Knetkürbisse / play doh pumpkins =-.

  4. Greta @ Mom Living Healthy

    This is a great post! I have lost all my pregnancy weight, but my outlook on fitness and health has changed from being focused on me to focusing on our family as a whole. We try to fit physical activity together as a family.

    Also, I find that focusing on eating MORE fruits and veggies, not LESS of anything else, really helps me to keep a balanced and healthy approach to nutrition. Thanks!
    .-= Greta @ Mom Living Healthy´s last blog ..Workout Wednesday: No Gym, No Problem! =-.

  5. steadymom

    For me, it’s really been in the last three months that I’ve experienced real freedom in this area. For the first time in my life, I feel like I can really enjoy eating – without worrying about gaining weight. It is a wonderful feeling!

    Great post, Lisa!

    .-= steadymom´s last blog ..My Little Girl =-.

  6. se7en

    Now that’s a great post!!! We definitely find eating outdoors makes us eat healthier – we try and have at least one meal outdoors everyday and now that we are heading into summer we could eat out doors all day. Somehow garden picnics cry out for fresh crunchy fruit and salad sandwiches!!! It is just remembering to actually do it!!!
    .-= se7en´s last blog ..Baby Care Through The Se7en Ages of a Little Man… =-.

  7. Artemis

    After many frustrating years of dieting and deprivation, I learned in my early to mid-twenties that the best way to lose weight was no diet at all. I listened to my body, and ate what I wanted (including junk food, if I felt for it). I put on some weight at first, but then I lost and lost and lost until I was a healthy, normal weight (not skinny, but right for my height and bone structure.) I’ve never dieted since, and the most my weight fluctuates is five pounds, even after both pregnancies. I eschew all “lite” and “diet” foods, even sodas and milk!

  8. Satakieli

    I think the real key for me has been to just not worry so much about food. I love food, I love cooking and eating. Recently I started cooking seasonally and I’ve cut out pretty much anything with ingredients that I can’t pronounce! But other than that I have become a whole lot more relaxed about the whole thing, which stops me from binge eating guilt cycle.
    .-= Satakieli´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday – Serene =-.

  9. Karen @old beginnings

    This is such a great post – and a big reminder that you can thrive on simplicity. We have been making an effort for years now to remove processed foods from our diet, and feel that it’s paid big dividends for us. I still have a bit to go after having twins, but I’m not stressed about it, my pre-pregnancy clothes fit, and we’re all healthy. You have to focus on the pluses along the way!
    .-= Karen @old beginnings´s last blog ..are these too girly? =-.

  10. Eric

    I like the advice of eating seasonally. I haven’t heard that before. It sounds like shopping for a seasonal menu would be easier at a farmers market, to take the guess work out of what’s in season. Especially since supermarkets are global, and get food from all parts of the world.

    I also like the recommendation to “experience the elements.” It’s amazing how much better I feel when I get to spend some time outside.

  11. Jayne

    I agree that eating natural/whole foods is a simple way to lose weight. I have tried many different diets/methods I have found them time consuming and not simply. I would love to incorporate eating by the seasons with my kids. The list of veggies and fruits broken down by season is really inspiring (a couple I didn’t even think of). Anyone have any kid-friendly recipes for some of the veggies listed? We eat a lot of fruit but I have a hard time preparing veggies I wasn’t raised with like eggplant and squashes.
    .-= Jayne´s last blog ..Short Poem made into a Film! =-.

    • Lisa

      Hi Jayne,

      Some recipes that have worked for me with my children are adding cooked squashes or pumpkin to morning pancakes (if I don’t have time to roast these myself, I use organic canned pumpkin or butternut squash)– I also bulk up muffins with fruits like apples, raisins, berries, or shredded carrot. My meatloaf is really colorful with chopped kale, ground nuts, shredded carrot, and chopped red pepper. Also eggplant parm is a favorite in my house…they call them eggplant pizzas 🙂

      Just wanted to note, too, that while I think fortifying recipes to “hide” veggies is a good idea nutritionally (and I do it often), I also do my best to serve actual veggies on their dish so they can recognize them– its the only way they will come to connect that veggies are part of a healthy meal!
      .-= Lisa´s last blog ..What Do You Believe About Cleansing? =-.

      • Jayne

        Thanks for all of the suggestions! I really like the idea of fruit muffins (we do blueberry but that is about it)! I agree with you that “hiding” veggies. I want to introduce more vegetables in their diet. They love identifying veggies and fruits at the market and in the garden however we don’t seem to get them to the table and in their bellies. You have really given me food for thought and I can’t wait to try eggplant pizza (sounds good) 🙂
        .-= Jayne´s last blog ..Short Poem made into a Film! =-.

  12. LobotoME

    I find that eating clean (meaning eating things my grandmother would have ate – not over processed stuff) and MOVING each day (even if its just 1/2 hour of yoga) helps keep me from needing to diet….
    .-= LobotoME´s last blog ..{ ME vs. debt } =-.

  13. Shannon @ AnchorMommy

    I love these ideas! I’m making a real effort to eat more seasonally, not only because it just makes sense, but because of the higher nutrient value. Foods that are brought in from warmer climates thousands of miles away lose some nutrients. Local, seasonal produce is not only better for you, it tastes better too.
    .-= Shannon @ AnchorMommy´s last blog ..Spooky Food =-.

  14. Laura

    This is so helpful. I just read “Food Matters” by Mark Bittman, and he has a similar approach to healthy food choices. One thing I would like to add is to make things from scratch whenever possible, even just once in a while. Seeing what goes into common foods gives you such a different perspective on them. My eating has changed dramatically since I started “really” cooking, because I have a respect for the foods and their ingredients that I didn’t have before.
    .-= Laura´s last blog ..Demystifying Pasta =-.

  15. smilinggreenmom

    This truly is a great perspective on not just weight, but staying healthy! I try so hard to remember to drink lots of water, rest and take my vitamins. I even take my Vidazorb OPC age defense probiotic every day. I heard that they help with weight. My biggest challenge is really the water drinking- and I think our family does really well with our food choices. We cannot stand processed stuff. Thanks again!

  16. Jack Brooks

    Great pictures- I had to stay away from the refrigerator after seeing them!
    I had to post an excerpt w/ trackback from your most captivating article.
    Being “turned on” to natural foods a long time ago makes me marvel at how it’s only recently being recognized as important for the family. I look forward to seeing more on this. We at see the need for healthy food for the family as well as exercising together for fitness.
    .-= Jack Brooks´s last blog ..Time Always The Issue For Busy Moms =-.

  17. Jen

    I commented last night, but it got eaten, obviously 🙂

    I love this idea… but I live in the tropics where it is a pretty constant 90-95 all year around. Things do not grow well here, and we get most things shipped up from down south (I’m in Australia, so as to stop confusion *smile*) Should we eat the fruits that are in season down there or not? Eating stews and things up heare would be awful to do some days!

    I look forward to hearing your take on this 🙂
    .-= Jen´s last blog ..Struggles… =-.

  18. Melanie at Parenting Ink

    I think this is an enormous, life-changing way of thinking for most people. I love the sound of it, but it’s one of those things that scares me. Can I really change that much, I wonder?
    And that makes me think, how is it that we as humans have changed so much that eating un-naturally has become so quickly a part of our nature?
    .-= Melanie at Parenting Ink´s last blog ..The OED cites “heartache” from 1000 (meaning “heartburn”). But Hamlet’s use of the word is the first recorded use of “heartache” to mean “pain or anguish of mind, esp. that arising from disappointed hope or affection.” =-.

  19. shelle

    This was a very good article, thank you. If anyone is looking for seasonal recipes has a great variety. My goal is always to try one new recipe a week which has introduced me to new veggies. I find that if I don’t make a fuss over the food served neither do the kids, they reflect our feelings about kid friendly meals and did that concept come about because of happy meals? I don’t remember anyone cooking special things for me and my siblings back in the day.
    .-= shelle´s last blog ..Snow day 2 =-.

  20. Jaime

    Thanks so much for answering my question. This article is full of such wonderful, simple ideas. I’m going to start with eating more seasonally and go from there. Thanks!

  21. Harry

    Its always best to go on diet in a natural way, thanks to these tips, it can help us determine what is right for us naturally.

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