Autumn is now in full swing, and I hope you’re all enjoying the rich colors, cooler mornings and some healthy fall foods. As the temperatures drop with each passing day, it’s important to be aware of how the fall and winter weather impacts your mood. I definitely get a case of the winter blues from time to time, especially last year when we had such a brutal fall and winter in Atlanta. Seasonal depression is very common, and today I want to talk about how we can boost our mood and prevent anxiety and feelings of gloom with the foods we eat.
A Few Facts About Seasonal Depression
Everyone gets the cold-weather blues from time to time, but seasonal depression is more severe and long term. Symptoms look like this: sadness, anxiety, irritability, loss of interest in usual activities, withdrawal from social activities, inability to concentrate, extreme fatigue, increased need for sleep, craving for carbohydrates, increased appetite and weight gain.
- 4-6% of Americans experience seasonal depression, while 10-20% suffer from a more mild form of winter blues.
- 75% of those with seasonal depression are women, usually between age 20 and 40. It can also occur in children and adolescents, and older adults are less likely to experience it.
- Symptoms are most commonly seen in people who live at high altitudes where seasonal changes are more extreme. (1% of Florida residents, 4% of Washington, D.C. residents and 10% of Alaska residents!)
Mood Boosting Foods
It’s proven that certain foods are helpful in turning your frown upside-down!
Neurotransmitters, the brain’s chemical messengers, play an integral role in our moods. The most well-known neurotransmitter is serotonin, which is most often associated with the prevention of depression. Our bodies make serotonin and the other neurotransmitters from the amino acids in our food. Tryptophan is the amino acid that is the main building block for serotonin, and it’s imperative that we have enough in order to not only maintain a healthy mood, but also to regulate our appetites and help us sleep better. Your best sources for tryptophan are chicken, turkey, beef and fish. If you’re a vegetarian, you can get your tryptophan from high-quality dairy, bananas, nuts and seeds.
You might be sick of me preaching about getting good fats in your diet, but I’m not going to stop anytime soon! The neurons in the brain are composed of fatty acids. Cell membranes, which are the receptors for neurotransmitters, are also made up of fats. It’s no surprise that clinical studies show that low-fat diets lead to depression, anxiety, inability to focus and fatigue. Many people report a lift in their temperament when they introduce more quality fats into their diets. Think butter, nuts, seeds, avocados, extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil. Animal fats are a great source of Vitamin D, which is a fabulous mood elevator, so you have my permission to bring on the bacon! Yes, you read that right, but make sure you select naturally raised and nitrate-free!
The Omega-3 fatty acids are especially important in keeping our moods and emotions balanced. So many Americans are deficient in Omega-3s. Fish and cod liver oils, flax seeds/flax seed oil and eggs are all excellent sources.
So even though it’s our natural tendency to want to snuggle up in our houses with sugary junk foods and starchy carbohydrates when the weather gets cold, we have to resist and instead pick the high-quality fats and tryptophan-rich foods! Regular exercise will also give us a daily dose of endorphins in the gloomy colder months.
I definitely have the tendency to become more sedentary this time of year. When I get out of work at 5 p.m. and it’s already starting to get darker outside, my first instinct is to grab a tub of ice cream and head to the couch with a good episode of Glee! It might sounds appealing, but it’s a recipe for gloom! I fight that impulse by only allowing myself to watch an episode of Glee if I’m on the treadmill at the same time. Another trick is to make yourself a cup of tea with honey or stevia after dinner so you have something warm and sweet to sip on instead of grabbing the sweets.
What do you do to keep your mood elevated and keep from packing on the pounds in the colder months of the year? We”d love to hear your suggestions for battling the winter bulge!