As the weather warms, I’ve been seeking solace in shaded walks and clear mountain streams. The arrival of this summer season finds me in an expansive, expectant place – one full of transformation, manifestation and fruition.
As always, the shift in seasons means adjusting how I eat – letting go of warmer fare and keeping things light, cool, simple.
Abundant local veggies take center stage. Green soups play a staring role, as do farm-fresh eggs, wild-caught fish and a-maz-ing berries. What about ice cream, you ask?
In Chinese Medicine, eating and living with the seasons is an important part of staying healthy.
For each season, Chinese classics offer sage guidance for what to cultivate in our lives...and what to put on our plates.
What does this mean for summer?
Summer is all about expansion. It’s a time for growth, creativity and outward activity. A time to be joyful, easygoing and free of grudges.
These months mark the pinnacle and maturity of the all that was planted and sprouting before. They are a time of free flow between inner self and outside world.
During summer, the Chinese classics counsel us to rise early and retire late, staying physically active and engaged with our surroundings. They also deem summer the best time for more sex. (Yes – the classics really say that.)
What does this have to do with summer?
A lot, actually. In Chinese Medicine, we don’t separate food and eating from the rest of life...or from wider patterns of living and being.
What’s on our plate in summer is part of the bigger picture of seasonal attunement. This attunement – in all aspects – supports health and vitality throughout the year.
In summer, as in every season, individual factors come into play too. In other words, eating seasonally is just one variable to consider when crafting your optimal diet. When I work with clients one-on-one, I take many variables, including personal goals, into account. You may be wondering: How can I incorporate Chinese Medicine into my own kitchen?
Here are 5 ways to stay healthy with Chinese Medicine this summer:
- Summer is a time to eat less, light, and simply.
Compared to other times of year, portions should be smaller and food lighter in nature, reflecting the yang energy of the season.
Avoid the heavy, dense foods of winter, instead choosing simple proteins surrounded by plenty of veggies. Greens are an especially good choice, as are cucumbers and fennel.
Also keep food combinations and preparation simple, easy, summery.
- Cook foods for shorter duration at higher temperatures.
Shorter cooking at higher temperatures will making cooling foods slightly warmer, will keep your vegetables crunchy, and keep your Middle Burner fired up.
By cooling, I’m not talking about just the physical properties - every ingredient has an intrinsic thermal nature and influence on the body after eating. As the weather warms, we may crave more "cooling" foods but we still need to be aware of the effect that may have on our digestion.
For those whose constitutions allow them to incorporate raw vegetables into their diet, the warm summer months are the time. In general, I recommend at least lightly steaming or sauteing the majority of your veggies - you'll keep your Middle Burner happy, and your body will be able to digest the nutrients more easily.
- Add pungent foods and spices, which move outward and up.
The expanding, rising qualities of the pungent flavour support the expansive, outward nature of the season. Pungent also brings heat to the surface, helping vent it through the pores.
Think onions, leeks, radishes, spicy greens, ginger, garlic, pepper and mint.
One caveat: For individuals with too much upward, outward, fiery energy, lots of pungent (even during summer) can make things worse. If that sounds like you, take it easy on the hot sauce!
- Stay hydrated (but not how you might think).
When weather’s hot, drink plenty of room-temperature or warm liquids. (In other words, pass on the iced latte.)
Might seem strange, but too much cold weakens digestion. It can also cause contraction in the body, trapping heat inside. Trust your thirst and avoid drinking too much liquid (especially with meals).
- Lean into herbal support to up-level your seasonal game!
Perhaps more than any other time, the transition between seasons can leave us feeling slightly off kilter. This is natural – our bodies and minds want to move toward balance but need a minute to adjust.
Chinese herbal formulas are a fantastic, easy way to smooth the transition and support seasonal alignment:
- Too much ice cream leave you with an upset tummy? Try Digestive Harmony.
- Summer break with the kiddos fun…but stressful? Consider Emotional Balance.
- Summer flowers give you a runny nose? Immunity Support has your back.
- Warm-weather play take a toll on your back and knees? Joint Vitality is the one!
- Hormones out of whack with shifting schedules and routines? Women’s Formula restores regularity and harmony.
- Trouble sleeping during this yang season? Try Mental Tranquility Sleep Remedy (or Physical Tranquility Sleep Remedy, if your nights are sweaty and restless).
Choosing a formula that’s right for you will complement dietary and lifestyle attunement, helping you feel your best this summer and beyond!
Make these changes during summer? Or have other seasonal tips? Please share in the comments!
Dr. Dana Leigh Lyons is the owner of Alchemist Eating, offering custom plans to help you eat, live and feel better. Through long-distance coaching packages and deep dives, she crafts routines that are healthy, simple and just right for you. Her work is an alchemy of Chinese Medicine, mindful eating and minimalism. Find Dr. Dana’s website, blog and free ebooks here. You can also follow her on Facebook and Instagram.