As it gets colder and darker in the winter months, mood, sleep patterns, and appetite can be affected. Some individuals who are greatly impacted by this season shift may experience recurrent depressive episodes that begin to appear in late fall, then start to taper off when the days get longer in the spring/summer. This pattern is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Some research suggests that the consumption of sweet, sugary foods momentarily alleviates the symptoms of SAD by increasing perception of energy levels, making individuals feel more “perky.” This is effect is also supported by studies that indicate a rise in brain serotonin (a feel-good hormone) levels occurs after eating carbohydrate.
If you are impacted by SAD or just feel a little off during the winter season, it is possible that you experience changes in appetite and cravings. “Comfort foods” or higher carbohydrate meals and sweet snacks may become more appealing the colder and darker it gets outside.
The question then becomes, how do we mindfully enjoy treats during this difficult season? Is there a way to enjoy scrumptious sweets without creating a spiraling reliance on them to elevate our moods?
Well, research again illustrates that a repeated, recurrent, and excessive consumption of highly delicious foods is required to establish this unfortunate behavioral reliance. To help prevent or halt this cycle and practice mindful enjoyment of treats, there are a few things that can be done:
Begin Daily Reflection
It is not easy to do, but observing where you are at in your journey now and projecting to where you want to be is the first step to understanding what is holding you back. After you understand your barriers, you can then start to set goals that will propel you forward. Try some form of reflection daily, as this is key in moving towards your goals.
Create Your Balance
After you find out where you are lacking balance in your life, aim to lessen the gap. This could be in sleep habits, physical activity, nutrition, work-life balance, self-care, etc. For example, we know that exercise also releases those feel-good hormones, so perhaps this is a terrific place for you to start. We also know balanced eating with regular meals throughout the day helps regulate blood sugar levels. Blood sugars in turn improve mood regulation, making this another suitable place to start. Through your own reflection, find out for yourself the one thing you want to start to chip away at today. (Remember to make your goal realistic!)
Eat Treats Mindfully
- Slowly savour the aroma, texture, and flavour of your chosen item. Pay attention to how you feel before, during and after eating your chosen treat food. This mindful presence can help you to understand and define what a worthwhile treat is for you.
- Enjoy your treat with no distractions.
- After a few bites, have a drink of water and ask yourself if you want to continue. If not, give yourself permission to have the rest later.
- Enjoy your treat after a well-balanced meal or snack. This will help you feel satisfied with a small portion. Try not to have a treat before a meal, as you likely won’t be satisfied with just one serving.
- Remember: treating yourself does not always have to be food-based! A treat could be a massage, a bath, time to read an enjoyable book, time with a friend.
By Susan Sommerville – Registered Dietitian (Nutritionist)