Self-Care for A Less Stressful Fall Transition


This week on the podcast is all about shifting gears into a new season, and today is specifically about what to eat in fall. When life tends to pick up speed, even though in the Northern hemisphere at least, it’s still hot and dry, and you might wish you could just read a book in a shady spot. School’s starting up again. Business is picking up again. And so our schedules are in flux and the overall energy is bumping up a notch. Let’s talk about how to smoothly shift gears.

To that end, today I’m talking with my go-to nutrition expert, Mary Sheila Gonella of Occidental Nutrition. Mary Sheila is a recurring guest on this podcast, a friend of mine, and a very talented, passionate, and educated nutritionist. She blends traditional approaches, like taking care of your blood sugar and insulin levels with ancient practices, such as Ayurveda. She’s beaming into us today from the California wine country to share her tips for supporting yourself through some simple and delicious self-care strategies so that your body has the nourishment, it needs to carry you through the fall transition.

Listen to the Podcast Here

Hey, Mary Sheila, it’s so good to have you back on the podcast. I know you always weave in insights from Ayurveda into your work. So what is fall all about from an Ayurvedic perspective?

That’s a great question. Ayurveda is an elemental science. So I love to look at the world outside our window and then really articulate that into how we are feeling and what the fall is about. So the elements of ether air, fire, water, earth, and as we come into fall, it becomes more dry and cold. Which is the elements of ether and air. In Ayurveda we’re always talking about doing the opposite of what ever is presenting itself.

So it’s a time to make sure we stay warm, and hydrated, and moisten the tissues that are more exposed to that dryness. And really it’s a time to support and nourish the lungs, because we know when we come into the season of cold, that’s when the flu season starts. And we want to nourish and protect the lungs and keep them moist and hydrated and healthy as we enter that stage.

Oh, I would imagine that’s even extra important this year with COVID-19 and the Delta variant and all that jazz.
Okay. So what’s an eating strategy that would be helpful to adopt, especially in these early days of adjusting to our new fall schedule? How should we figure out what to eat in fall?

If you think about coming into fall, maybe the summer has been different for people. But usually in the summertime, we overextend ourselves and you know we’re going to maybe more parties where maybe staying up later. There’s longer days, right? We might be indulging in more things more often. So it’s kind of like, we have all of that and then we have to rest. And to me fall is a restful time, but it doesn’t always happen like that because like you said, school starts, sports starts. Sometimes people’s schedules, they don’t get home until eight o’clock from driving their kids to all their practices and this and that.

So it can be the opposite of what we truly need. So that being said, I love to think about seasonal foods. Like what’s in season during that time, and really it’s root vegetables and winter squash. And things like that that are very nourishing and very kind of grounding. So I would say, start your dinners earlier. I feel like I always say this on your show, but soups to keep things hydrated and moistened, especially in the lungs. And you can really pack a punch and make your soup very immune boosting by throwing things like mushrooms and other kinds of roots and spices and herbs to just, again, boost your immune system, support it, get it activated and give it the building blocks that it needs from the foods that we’re eating.

I was talking to somebody the other day and she was like, I went to the grocery store and I bought butternut squash soup. And that seemed so weird, but it just was calling to me. And as I hear you talk, I’m thinking like, man, butternut squash soup sounds like it fills a lot of bills. Put some garlic and some turmeric and maybe some ginger in there too. Would that be a good kind of a meal to think about having right now?

Absolutely. And that’s what happens too. When we have those foods, they are very moistening. But like I said, they’re really calming. Having the starch, it keeps our adrenals calm at night and it will help you to have a better night’s sleep. And this is the time of year you want to prioritize your sleep. And the cycles give us that permission because all of a sudden it’s darker earlier. So get into bed earlier, like let yourself recover from the over-extension of summer.

I love that. What else besides food should we be thinking about? So it sounds like sleep is an important lever for us to be using right now. Anything else, that’s not necessarily food related?

Yeah. You know, if you think about the dryness, you might notice it on your skin. So moisturize your skin. And I like to say, just like we say about babies, don’t put anything on your baby’s skin that you wouldn’t put in your mouth. Well, I think the same thing is true with us. So open your kitchen cupboards and slather on whether it’s olive oil, or maybe almond oil, or sesame oil, or coconut oil. You could do this before or after your shower.  But you just want to moisten your skin, keep that moist.

And then all of your other airways that have access to a lot of that dryness. So there’s a practice in Ayurveda where you oil the body. There’s an oil that you can put in your nostrils and your ears, things like that. You can also use a neti pot. So you’re just keeping things hydrated and moistened. And if you don’t have a sensitivity to salt, salt’s good. Whole salts have a lot of electrolytes and they really help us with our uptake of moisture. So if you’re craving more salt, rather than eating a bag of chips, just be okay with salting your food on your plate with good whole salts.

Okay, great. That’s so funny. You mentioned that about opening up your kitchen cabinets and putting the oil that you find there on your body. My husband will take olive oil and just fill his palm with it and rub it in his hair. And I will sometimes be like, ‘Babe, you know, we have hair products.’ He’s like, ‘I’m half Italian. And you know what, it works!’ Great.
Okay. So Mary Sheila, many people experience allergies this time of year. What advice do you have for them?

Yeah. So that’s going to come around with that dry air that’s sort of swirling around and picking up lots of dust from the dryness. You’re on the East coast, you guys have more rain I’m on the West coast. It’s a lot drier. We’ve got a lot of smoke. That neti pot or any kind of nasal irrigation you can do is a great way to clear out your sinuses. That is a brilliant way to support with allergies to just clear it all out. Because we’re breathing it in all day. Why not clear it out? You can also gargle just to support all the lymph and area in the back of the throat. And any kind of water we’ll do or tea or whatever. It doesn’t have to be anything special.

The other thing that I find as a nutritionist for when people do have a lot of allergies is to reduce the amount of grains that you’re eating. Because there’s something called a concomitant reaction where we’re getting things in more ways than one. So if we’re breathing the air and there’s pollens and different things in the air, we’re getting it that way. And then for eating the grain, we’re getting two hits of a similar thing. So we can’t stop breathing, but maybe we can reduce our grains. And that seems to be really helpful for a lot of people in just lowering their allergenic load.

And anything we could do to support the liver. Cause usually allergies are a sign that the liver is a little overwhelmed. So lots of greens, lots of hydration, even the lemon in your water are all great. Less alcohol, less sugar, lots of fiber to support the microbiome because the more we can support the microbiome, the more our liver is protected. And that’s going to add up to be a really great way to support the body being overwhelmed. Cause really allergies to me is an overwhelmed system that’s reacting.

Got it. Well, speaking of feeling overwhelmed, you know, I’m completely raising my hand here. There’s a lot of us who are still feeling like they need to restore themselves after the last 18 months of the pandemic. And feeling a little like, oh man, how am I going to have the energy to meet the demands of a busy fall? So is there anything particular you might tell us who might just be feeling like we’re still in need of some restoration?

Well, one thing that one of my good friends, Michael, always says is no is a complete sentence. So you’ve likely also heard of FOMO, right? The fear of missing out. Well, there’s another one that’s called JOMO, the joy of missing out. And I want to just lead with that because it is absolutely okay to make sure that we’re checking in and taking care of ourselves because most of us have slowed our nervous systems down. Hopefully.

I mean, I know this has been stressful for a lot of people to this time. But we’ve gotten more comfortable eating our own food, slowing down a little bit. And there’s a beauty to that. There’s a connection even to probably our ancestral ways of how we’ve been. And we might find that it feels overwhelming to step back into an old reality. So it is absolutely okay to say no.

I think we need to look at the things that we know have been substantial in supporting us during this time. And make sure that we can keep those habits that we built on over this time into our life . And I’ll just give you an example really quick. I have a dear client who,  when I started working with her actually at the beginning of the pandemic, has made amazing changes. And she has a lot of auto-immune conditions, especially in the GI tract and is extremely sensitive to a lot of different foods. Every time she would go and travel anywhere, she always knew she’d come home sick and have to recover.

And she traveled recently and she did it differently and she brought a lot of her own food. They even had a little two burner that they brought to hotels and they just did a lot more cooking. And she felt great the entire trip. She came home and she said, this is the first time I came home and I didn’t have to recover. Like I felt so good. My husband and I had such a great time. We connected so deeply. It wasn’t about me being sick, it was about me having a good time and experiencing it more to the fullest extent. So  we can’t underestimate what this time has given us, but what can we take from it? And how can we lead with that?

Awesome. I know that you offer many great programs that help people take better care of themselves and their bodies through nutrition. And you also have many free goodies like your breakfast report, which is a perennial favorite. So for folks who’d like to hear more from you, where can they find you?

So my website is called Occidental Nutrition. And I do have a breakfast report, which I kind of break down the science of what to eat for breakfast, for blood sugar and hormonal balance. I have a YouTube channel also called Occidental Nutrition and a Facebook channel with the same name. And I do a lot of videos, cooking videos, and I try to really lead with education. I have a big education background. I was a teacher at a nutrition college for many years. So I love to empower people by teaching them how the body works and then how they can apply those principles. When you’re in my company, I really try to teach you and empower you. So I’d love to have you be part of my community.

Daily Tiny Assignment

So according to Mary Sheila, fall is the time to eat starchy nutrient dense meals at night. Preferably ones that are wet and warm to nourish our lungs and our immunity. So your tiny assignment is to take a moment to think about a handful of dishes you could eat that would fit this bill. Mary Sheila and I talked about butternut squash soup during the episode and that is a great one.

I also asked her for other ideas after we stopped recording and she suggested combining beans and greens into one bowl. And that made me think of escarole and bean soup, an Italian staple that is really way better than it might sound. Especially when you use a ton of garlic and add some red pepper flakes if you like things spicy. Other ideas are a quinoa bowl with roasted vegetables and your protein of choice or your favorite chili. That’s right, it’s chili season.

These are simple dishes you can cook in quantity and freeze the leftovers for the next week. Or if you don’t mind eating the same dish multiple times as I don’t, you can have extra meals on hand for a busy week ahead. Just jot down two or three fall steadying meals and put them somewhere you’ll see them so that you’ll remember to pick up the ingredients you need the next time you’re at the store. And remember what to actually cook when you’re rolling up on dinner time.


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