Our diet is something that can become a source of great stress when we experience Seasonal Affective Disorder. As I mentioned in my section on what I believe causes SAD I suggest that historically our diet in the winter consisted of what could be stored and was designed to help us survive the harsh months. Even though we have warm houses and plenty of fresh food all year round our body still thinks it needs to prepare and this can lead to us what are known as “carb cravings” where we constantly want to eat food high in carbohydrates and sugar.
To someone who has never experienced this it is hard to understand just how strong the desire to eat food high in carbohydrates is, we almost can’t stop ourselves. Unfortunately if we give in to these urges we put our health at risk due to increased weight, cholesterol and sugar levels. This means we have to do what we can to reduce the impact of these urges.
The first thing that I suggest you do is to simply not have trigger foods in the house. For my part I love savoury foods the most followed by chocolate and bread. This means I ensure there is never more than I truly need for the week of these foods in the house. I don’t buy crisps or snacks of any kind. This stops me sneaking into the cupboard to have just one more packet of mini cheddars. If it isn’t there I can’t eat it, and when I am home and it is blowing a gale the last thing I want to do is go out.
I have found that trying to ignore the urge to eat other than at meal times adds to my anxiety so I ensure that there are foods that are as healthy as possible for when I must eat. If I have to have bread in the house I make sure it is wholegrain with as many seeds and nuts in it as possible so it is filling. I have a bowl full of bananas available at all times. I do allow myself to have chocolate but I ensure it is 85% dark, this gives the cocao kick that I am craving but I need to eat less to get it.
I have smaller meals regularly rather than trying to make it through the day on 3 larger meals. By spreading the quantity of food out over 5 or 6 smaller meals and snacks I know that when I want to reach for a biscuit I don’t have long to wait.
Being aware of how hungry you really are is also helpful. Rather than hitting the fridge take a moment to ask yourself “am I really hungry or do I just want to eat?” If it is the latter use the trusty “glass of water and distraction” trick; I down a glass of water and then go and do something to distract myself until meal time.
I’m not saying that these stop me putting any weight on, far from it. However if I can minimise the damage as much as possible there is less to lose in the spring.
Too tired to cook healthy meals?
All too often if we have had a bad day at work the last thing we have energy for is to cook a healthy, low fat meal. It is so much easier to throw a ready meal in the microwave or call a takeaway.
When you have a sunny day and you are feeling energetic pre-cook healthy meals to put in your freezer that can be microwaved on the low days.
So often when we are feeling the effects of SAD we are feeling tired and yet we must carry on. It is so tempting to reach for a coffee or stimulant drink to get you through the day. Although I wouldn’t never say don’t drink coffee I would suggest you limit your intake; it is known that too much caffeine can add to anxiety and disturb sleep, setting you up for further problems.
Allow yourself to have your coffee every now and then but also consider using your light box more to help keep you awake.
Loss of appetite
There are a few people that report to having a complete loss of appetite during the winter. This can be as damaging to the body as eating too much. If this happens eat as much as you can, making sure it is balanced, containing a variety of vegetables, proteins and drink plenty of water. If you can’t face chewing then hearty soups and fresh smoothies might help in the short term.
For some protein shakes might be an option short term as they can contain enough to keep you going for a couple of days and may help retrain your body to accept food. However they should never be seen as a replacement for real food. Be sure to choose well with these products as many contain large amounts of sugar which is not helpful.
In the end the aim is to regain your appetite for normal healthy food.
If your loss of appetite lasts for more than a few days it is important to make an appointment to visit your GP.