For those of us in the South, the weather is finally starting to warm up after one of our coldest winters in years. Wherever you are in the country, your body is getting ready for summer already, and there is a lot you can do to stay healthy and balanced during this time.

We have gotten used to our modern lifestyle of getting food from the grocery store instead of the garden, so we are less in touch with how the seasons affect us. Remember that up the last century with the advent of refrigeration and long-distance trucking, winter has been a time of few resources, where survival was not a given. At the same time, people needed fat as insulation and had to burn more energy to stay warm.

This means we are naturally tuned to store up energy in the form of extra weight during fall and early winter to keep our reserves up. And at the end of winter as the green plants start coming up again, we automatically start cleansing and shedding some of that winter excess. The best thing we can do in spring is to help our body cleanse and prepare for the lightness of summer, otherwise all that stored energy we are cleansing will put extra stress on the liver and organs of elimination and we will end up with stuffy noses, allergies, or other types of problems.

This is the time of year to get outside and get our bodies moving, to get the circulation going again (disease = stagnation). And it also means eating less of the heavy foods that we crave during winter. In March and April, I will often cut out 90% of the wheat and dairy in my diet. These are the two main heavy/sticky foods in our diet, called “damp foods” in Chinese medicine since they gum up digestion when eaten in excess. Last year I also cut out processed sugars starting in mid-March.

You can also incorporate foods that help cleanse the liver, such as beets (try some borscht soup!!), lemons and citrus which helps cleanse through the tangy sour flavor and its high anti-oxidant content, and pungent roots like radishes and turnips. Also, pungent and bitter greens like spring mix salad greens, or cooked kale and collards will also help.

If you are going to do a more intensive cleanse, this is the best time of year to fast as we are naturally cleansing already. I’m not a big fan of heroic cleanses, but drinking just broth and/or juices for a few days can give the gut a needed rest and help cleanse out old gunk. It can also help break cravings. Only go as far as your body is able to go though, don’t push it too much.

I’m not going to go into different cleanses here (there are plenty of good resources out there) but do remember this – how you eat the few days after you end your cleanse is just as important as what you eat during it. Imagine that you are taking layers of paint off a wall – whatever you put down first is what will be there the longest.

And remember to get out there and exercise, move your body! When we move, it not only circulates the blood, but the muscles pushing against our lymph vessels helps return lymph to the cleansing organs. All the blood moving herbs in the world aren’t as good as a half hour brisk walk.

So get out there and enjoy the spring-time! See you when I get back from my honeymoon!!