Could seasonal affective disorder make you gain weight?

Canadian winters mean gloomy days, when you might feel tired and depressed. This “blah” feeling is known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or the “winter blues.” Here’s how to combat the winter blues and avoid gaining weight before spring.

No more weighting


How winter blues

affect your weight

Canadian winters mean gloomy days, when you might feel tired and depressed. This “blah” feeling is known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or the “winter blues.” Here’s how to combat the winter blues and avoid gaining weight before spring.

While it’s already March, the cold winter in Canada isn’t over yet. A study by the Mood Disorders Society of Canada found that about 2 per cent of Canadians are affected by seasonal affective disorder (SAD). While SAD symptoms vary, it’s important to pay attention to the way your mood affects your appetite, especially when you’re trying to lose weight.

Here’s how your weight could be affected and how you can ensure you don’t pack on anymore winter pounds before spring hits.

SAD brings on feelings of boredomwinter blues

While the cold weather leaves most of us staying indoors, it also means a lack of sunlight, which not only dampens your mood but also leaves you bored and with lower energy. This feeling of boredom can have you making more trips to the fridge even when you’re not hungry. I’ve been guilty of this too, procrastinating from doing my work or bored enough to go see what good snacks I have stocked away. Be sure to recognize your feelings of boredom and “blah” so you’re not left eating when you’re not even hungry. A good trick I use is to ask myself why I’m about to eat something. If I’m genuinely hungry, I’ll eat it. But sometimes I realize I’m bored or procrastinating rather than hungry, so I’ll put whatever I was going to eat away.

SAD can make you crave carbohydrates

This week I noticed how my mood affects my eating habits and when I crave carbohydrates the most. I don’t know about you, but I found myself going carb-crazy in January and February, always craving bread and pasta, while salads were my usual preference in the summer. As a child, I used to think that we gain some weight in winter because we needed the extra layers to keep us warm. While the cold winter days might have us feeling less active than in the hot summer weather, the winter blues might actually be the reason behind weight gain in winter. While depression can cause a loss of appetite, seasonal affective disorder does the opposite, where you experience an increase in appetite. This increase in appetite can be the culprit for your weight gain in the winter as well as the reason you seem to always be hungry lately.

Choose the right comfort foods

Comfort foods are usually unhealthy and loaded with starch, sugar and/or carbohydrates. They also leave you feeling great for about two minutes before your self-inflicted guilt for eating them begins. If you’ve got the winter blues, it’s actually better to avoid sugary and starchy foods, which increase your blood sugar levels and can further affect your mood. Instead, experiment with healthier recipes that include whole grains, fruits and vegetables, since a more balanced diet can improve your mood. Try making your usual comfort foods healthier if you must have them. For example, substitute white pasta with whole-grain pasta, and have a piece of 70 per cent dark chocolate instead of reaching for a chocolate bar.

Help your mood and your waistline

While you can’t control the weather, you can control your mood with a few simple things. One obvious and healthy way to improve your mood is to exercise, as it increases endorphins in your body, the hormone that boosts feelings of happiness. Get outside on the days when it’s not super cold to enjoy the fresh air, sunlight and exercise instead of staying on the couch with popcorn, watching TV. Take your vitamins, especially vitamin D to make up for the lack of sunlight, and help boost your immune system to avoid winter blues and colds.

Seek help and comfort from people rather than food. Talk to a close friend about how you feel, as he or she might offer words to help you see past the “blahs.” Finally, remember that spring and summer are coming soon, and find things you’d like to try or places you’d like to check out when they arrive. Planning something ahead of time gives you something to look forward to and motivation to stay on your journey toward a happy and healthy you.

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