Most of us have heard about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) a mood disorder brought about by specific seasons of the year, typically fall and winter when daylight hours are shorter. Depression, low energy, feelings of sadness, irritability, changes in appetite, and disrupted sleep patterns can all be symptoms. There are some theories on why this happens from a combination of environmental and biological factors, including disruptions in circadian rhythms. There are also other factors as seasonal body changes, putting on extra layers of fat in the winter. This has been said to protect us from the cold, which could be a lasting response from our ancestors but there a lot of other contributing factors:
Temperature for most people lessens their activity level. Unless you love all the outdoor activities that winter brings, instead you may find yourself under a blanket reading a book or watching TV. This of course leads to a few long months without regular activity especially if you don’t go to a gym or if gardening, yard work, walking or jogging in the warmer weather are your regular preferred activities.
Bigger Holidays – In the fall and winter there are many big festive holidays that are fairly close together as in Halloween (technically not a holiday but lots of candy that adults and kids both indulge in), Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. These almost always involve large meals and festive foods, which can and will lead to overeating and weight gain if not managed carefully.
Comfort Foods: Cold weather can lead to cravings for calorie-dense, comfort foods like warm soups, stews, and baked goods. Winter foods can be a bit heavier as when cold the body wants to warm up and activity or eating brings up thermogenesis in the body. So, we have to be careful and add lower nutrient dense foods or beverages that are warming, such as adding more veggies to our stews, steamed or roasted veggies if not wanting salad, and herbal teas instead of hot chocolate or sugar flavoured coffee’s
Light Exposure: Reduced daylight hours in the winter can affect our circadian rhythms and mood. As mentioned above people may experience SAD and turn to food as an emotional outlet.
Hormonal Changes and Evolutionary Factors: Some research suggests that hormonal changes in response to cold weather might influence appetite and metabolism, an evolutionary factor response where fat storage is increased to provide energy in the cold leaner months when food was scarcer. But now we don’t experience that in modern day, but our ancestral roots lie deep.
It’s important to note that this can be different for everyone. But being prepared and taking action now, can help many of these outcomes. Light therapy, meal planning and figuring out what kind of activity you can incorporate even if just in your home, as simple as marching while watching TV. Maintaining a balanced diet, staying physically active, and being mindful of holiday eating are key. Meal planning, and finding healthy comfort foods can help you maintain a healthy weight throughout the year. If you have concerns about SAD or seasonal body changes, contact your physician or let us at DEEM help you devise a plan for you.
Mikkie Nettles-Pollon, Certified Personal Trainer
/Holistic & Sports Nutritionist
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