Ask the Dietitian: How to Fight the Winter Blues

Jessica Jones-Hughes
January 30, 2012

Have you ever noticed feeling extra tired during the winter months? Less energy to do the things you usually do, like exercising or playing with your kids? As we shift into winter, the sun goes down earlier and rises later, the temperature drops, and our energy levels tend to follow. Not all of us are prone to the winter pull; some find the cold reenergizing. Regardless of which side of the fence you fall on, the below tips may boost your mood and help you feel stronger and healthier during the winter months.

1.) Eat breakfast.

Eating breakfast is one of the best ways to get your body moving in the morning. The word breakfast literally means to break the fast. Overnight, your metabolism slows down and needs to be kicked back into motion which is where breakfast comes in. Ideally, I recommend eating a meal that includes a whole grain carbohydrate, protein and healthy fat, especially at breakfast. As the day goes on, keep your brain and body fueled by eating every four to five hours. checkTry this: Cook an egg from a local farm (protein + fat) using a little Equal Exchange olive oil (healthy fat) and enjoy it on top of a slice of whole grain toast (whole grain carbohydrate), alongside your favorite Equal Exchange coffee or tea.

2.) Limit consumption of processed carbohydrates / sugars.

Processed / packaged food tends to be filled with a lot of refined sugar, a result of processing. Refining removes important nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fiber, from food. When you eat refined carbohydrates and sugars (i.e. white bread, white rice, soda, candy, fruit juice, jam or syrup), your body quickly digests the food causing your blood sugar to surge and then drop quickly leaving you feeling tired, cranky and hungry a few hours later.

checkTry this: Replace white foods with quality carbohydrates such as: vegetables, fruits, whole wheat rice, whole grains (quinoa, barley, wheat berries, oatmeal), beans and legumes.

All of the quality carbohydrates listed above have a lot of essential nutrients, such as fiber, which slows the absorption of sugars / carbohydrates into your blood, warding off those cranky, tired, hungry feelings. Studies show that quality carbohydrates can release serotonin which decreases depressive feelings, improves outlook and enhances calmness.

Reality check: You don't have to be a purist and completely cut out your favorite Equal Exchange chocolate bar, simply moderate the amount you eat. Because we use actual cocoa beans and whole foods to make our bars, Equal Exchange Chocolate has a lot more good nutrients than most chocolate bars.

3.) Integrate protein into meals.

Although in the typical U.S. diet we get more than enough protein every day (even vegetarians!), it is important to eat high-quality protein with most meals and snacks. High quality protein includes beans, tofu, tempeh, eggs, lean meats, fish, low fat dairy, legumes, and nuts. Protein found in these foods (and in bananas!) have been shown to promote the release of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, hormones that are involved in boosting mood, and increasing alertness and focus hours after eating. Also, protein slows the digestion of carbohydrates.

checkTry this: Substitute your usual afternoon snack with a handful of Equal Exchange Tamari Roasted Almonds (one serving = one handful or about 20-25 almonds) and an Equal Exchange banana.

4.) Exercise and stay hydrated.

Although you may not feel as thirsty in the winter, the dry winter air can leave you more dehydrated than you think. Dehydration can make you feeling sluggish and tired.

checkTry this: Drink at least eight glasses of water or water equivalents each day. If you exercise, you will need more. Keep a reusable water bottle at your desk and by your side, refill and drink often throughout the day.

Exercise is one of the best ways to run off the winter blues (literally!). Exercising releases endorphins which increase happiness. Studies have also shown that exercise can help relieve depression and create physiological changes that make more energy to your body available throughout the day.

checkTry this: Join an indoor sports league, like soccer or volleyball. Get some friends together and try a new fun winter activity such as snow shoeing, ice skating or skiing.

For more mood boosting tips, check out this post from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.