Winter is a time when the days get shorter, the nights get longer, and temperatures dip to their lowest. However, winter is also a time when some dealing with the “winter blues,” and are overcome with tell-tale signs of depression– a medical condition that affects a person’s thoughts and feelings as well as the body, and can be associated with various physical problems in areas such as sleep, appetite, energy, libido, and thinking (Albrecht/Herrick16). The feelings and sensations, or lack thereof, associated with depression may be experienced by a person for any number of reasons specific to the individual and their circumstances. However, depression, which occurs regularly during certain times of the year, and which most typically affects people during the cold, dark, months of winter, is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness or NAMI, “the classic characteristics of recurrent winter depression include oversleeping, daytime fatigue, carbohydrate craving and weight gain. Additionally, many people may experience other features of depression including decreased sexual interest, lethargy, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, lack of interest in normal activities and decreased socialization.” One might ask why is it that a person becomes more prone to these feelings of depression during winter versus other times of the year. While the onset of SAD symptoms “usually begin in October or November and subside in March or April, in a minority of cases, symptoms occur in the summer rather than winter. There are certain factors (circadian rhythm, serotonin levels, and melatonin levels) that have been identified as influencing the occurrence of SAD and its symptoms, but a specific cause has not yet been identified.
In order to better understand how SAD affects individuals, let’s take a closer look at the three influential factors mentioned above: circadian rhythm, serotonin levels, and melatonin levels. Exposure to decreased light may disrupt the body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm, which helps us time our wake and sleep cycles, and determines when various important biological processes (ex: sleep, appetite, digestion, etc.) will take place. For instance, most of us are acclimated to how the presence or absence of sunlight influences when we wake up (in the morning), when we are at our most productive (during the day), and when we go to bed (in the evening after the sun has set).
Serotonin, aka “happiness hormone,” is a monoamine neurotransmitter biochemically derived from tryptophan, which regulates intestinal movements, as well as mood, appetite, sleep, and muscle contraction. The less light there is, the lower the production of serotonin, which disrupts the way the neurotransmitter effectively communicates with nerve cells, and leads to symptoms of SAD.
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland when it is dark, in order to make us feel sleepy. On the other hand, when there is light, the hypothalamus inhibits production of this hormone, which causes us to feel awake.
In conclusion, the darker days of winter cause the circadian rhythm to be affected by the lowered levels of serotonin, as well as the increased levels of melatonin. The body responds as if it were in pseudo-hibernation mode, and the SAD sufferer feels sleepier, increasingly tired, has less energy, appetite decreases, and mood is dampened. In order to curb and combat the symptoms of SAD, there are effective forms of treatment available, which consist of antidepressants, light therapy, and psychotherapy.
If you or anyone you know may be experiencing SAD, talk with your health care provider, or a qualified professional. For more information regarding SAD, and/or available treatment options, the following local resources are just a phone call away: NAMI (410-884-8691); Howard County Mental Health Authority (410-313-7350); Thrive Center (410-740-3240); Congruent Counseling Services (410-740-8066).
Have you ever told yourself, “Just one more potato chip,” and then proceeded to finish off the entire bag? Or have you bought a box of cookies with the intention of eating them in reasonable portions – and later, finding yourself stressed, eating the entire box in one sitting? I have and you are not alone.
It has been proven that women, more so then men, particularly stress about what and how much they eat. Why do we feel so guilty when we overeat? Personally, some of the reasons I find myself eating more to soothe feelings of anger, boredom, loneliness, and stress (and as a result, end up feeling guilty too). This is something I struggle with on a regular basis and it becomes a vicious cycle. Once I have overeaten for the day, I feel guilty and continue to overeat thinking, “What’s the point? I’ve already eaten poorly today.”
According to Lisa Elaine Held from an article that was published in Prevention magazine in May 2012, “Media messaging doesn’t help. Women’s magazine headlines are full of “guilt-free” burgers, snacks, and desserts. The underlying message is clear: If the foods in this article are guilt-free, then those others you’re eating are guilt-y.” So, how do we distinguish between eating as a source of nourishment and emotional eating?
Another important question to consider is, “Are certain foods physically addictive?” According to The Blood Sugar Solution 10-day Detox Diet by Mark Hyman, MD, “Foods that spike blood sugar are biologically addictive. So yes, food addiction is very real. It’s the root cause why so many people are overweight and sick. They are stuck in a viscous cycle of cravings.” I know that once I’ve gotten a taste of something sweet, there’s no doubt in my mind that the phenomenon of craving is overpowering and hard to shake.
“For some people giving up certain foods proves as difficult as it may be for an addict to give up alcohol or drugs. The same components of addiction are present and the brain may be affected in the same way. For many people their relationship with food is comparable to that of a drug user’s with drugs,” states Kimberly Steele, who is a bariatric surgeon at The Johns Hopkins Center for Bariatric Surgery.
What can we do to separate food with emotions? Ask ourselves some honest questions. I think the best question to ask yourself is, “Am I physically hungry or am I trying to fill some emotional need with food?” What has worked for me, is maintaining a daily food diary. I’m honest in my reporting, even when I feel I have “messed up” that day with overeating or eating junk food. This helps me see just how food and my emotions are intertwined. I know that this may not work for everyone, but maybe we should cut ourselves a break and try to separate food and guilt.
Many thanks to Kelly Mack for her contributions to Well & Wise.
In my farewell reflections, I want to share my thanks for allowing me to tell some of my health stories and lessons learned. I view health as a journey, trying to find a good balance in our daily life. With this approach, taking a look back at the path can be very helpful for planning next steps.
In my case, I made some great steps in physical therapy and gaining strength following knee replacement surgery. While I still have additional goals, I have found regular exercise to be very beneficial in my recovery and overall health. On the more challenging side, my chronic rheumatoid arthritis (RA) provides more adventure than I would like. This year I went on a new medication, but the side effects of weakening my immune system have led to bronchitis, pneumonia, and similar issues.
For me, health is a tricky balance. I don’t often feel I have a handle on it, but try to approach health as a daily practice. When I can string together some healthy days, I feel encouraged. A few weeks and I get ecstatic. I’m never 100 percent, but I’m always working on my health.
For the coming year I have a good foundation to build on. I’m happy with my exercise practice and feel I’ve made great improvements to my eating habits with the help of a nutritionist. I plan on incorporating meditation to help manage stress and pain from my RA. Continuing to gain strength will always be an important goal while also trying to maintain (or even improve) my quality of life with RA.
More elusively, I need to find a better balance with my RA treatment’s side effects and the attack of the disease. Unfortunately, I don’t have a plan for this piece, but need to consult with my doctor and work step-by-step to find a way.
With this in mind, how would you assess your year in health? Made some improvements? Noted some setbacks? Can you pick out one or two new practices you can embrace every day to support your health? It may sound crazy, but I’ve found making a change to daily habits can build gradually over time and give the confidence that long term health goals are possible to achieve.
Best of luck in your assessment and hope you can stake out some wins in the New Year!
As we approach the holiday season, many of us experience extra stress in our lives. Some of our stress is due to the hectic schedules that we endure, family situations, staying healthy and eating well, or traveling. So, what can you do to lessen your stress and enjoy the holidays this year?
For stressful family situations, I recommend Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin and A is for Attitude by Patricia Russell-McCloud.
If staying fit and eating well are bothering you, check out: Breaking the Food Seduction by Dr. Neal Barnard, 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food by Susan Albers, Psy.D., Crave by Cynthia M. Bulik, Ph.D., and Eating Well for Optimum Health: The Essential Guide to Food, Diet, and Nutrition.
If travel is a concern (or while you’re waiting at the airport), try some of our new services at hclibrary.org. Zinio is great for reading magazines, while Hoopla has music, audiobooks, television, and movies available. What a stress-free way to enjoy those long hours at the airport or while riding in a car! I love getting my favorite magazine through Zinio to read on my tablet.
Lastly, try journaling. Journaling is a wonderful way to relieve stress. I keep a gratitude journal beside my bed. Every night, I write five things in my journal that I am grateful for that day. I found that it helps me to sleep better at night, reduces my stress while making me more gracious for many of life’s blessings that I experience every day.
Remember, enjoy the upcoming season while building those memories to cherish with friends, family, and loved ones. Until we meet again, happy trails!
It’s upon us again – the resplendence and clamor of the holiday season.
Panic (admit it), set in back in October when Target brought out their windfall of mini lights. And then, there are those lavender Uggs – size 6 – you simply cannot find. The ones (if you don’t get them for her) your fourteen-year-old will remember her whole adult life. Football and menfolk will soon have squatter’s rights to the big screen in the living room. You’ll endure ear-deafening touchdowns, Velveeta on the new down pillows, and some nimrod always gives the dog the last of the chili with beans. From the kitchen you stare darkly at the remains of Aunt Celeste’s Waldorf Salad. Aunt Celeste, who’s now decided to stay through New Year’s. We won’t discuss the bathroom scale.
“Your brain,” says Scientific American, “is telling you to STOP! It’s full. It needs some downtime.”
But how to retreat from the holiday madness?
It’s as simple as black and white… the creature comfort of a feel-good book.
Are you, like me, still recovering from the overeating, carbfest known as Thanksgiving? Rich mashed potatoes, candied veggies (only on Thanksgiving can we justify candying our vegetables) buttery rolls, whipped cream on a slice of pie… (sorry, lost myself there for a moment). After that kind of meal, the last thing on your mind is probably dairy, but let me throw an unlikely word (composed of two dreaded words) out there: Buttermilk.
Despite its name, buttermilk (traditionally, the liquid left after churning milk to butter) has fewer calories than whole milk (99 calories in a cup to whole milk’s 157) and less fat (2.2 grams vs. 9 grams per cup). So, buttermilk is generally better for you than regular milk, having just as much calcium and being more easily digestible. Buttermilk is also believed to aid in overall digestion. This is mainly attributed to the fact that it is an excellent source of probiotics. If you’ve heard “probiotic” tossed around quite a bit but were never really quite sure what it referred to, MedlinePlus explains that it’s a “preparation (as a dietary supplement) containing live bacteria (as lactobacilli) that is taken orally to restore beneficial bacteria to the body; also: a bacterium in such a preparation.” And, for those of you keeping track, probiotics are my new best friends since my run-in with C. Diff last year.
Buttermilk has things besides just probiotics going for it. As mentioned, it still has plenty of calcium (284 milligrams per cup). There’s also phosphorus, riboflavin, and potassium in there. And for those of you looking to boost energy, there’s 8 grams of protein and 12 grams of carbohydrates in one cup of buttermilk. It has also been suggested that buttermilk consumption might be associated with reduced cholesterol. Buttermilk is also believed to be helpful against dehydration, boost immunity, and benefit skin.
Buttermilk frequently comes up as a replacement for richer dairy products in heart-healthy recipes. That doesn’t mean it still doesn’t have a dark side. It pops up in such deliciously naughty books as Fried & True: More Than 50 recipes for America’s Best Fried Chicken & Sides (although I make a pretty tasty oven-fried chicken with buttermilk that I got from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything) and a lovely and tempting book simply called Buttermilk: A Savor the South Cookbook. But, to defend buttermilk’s newly won reputation, it also features in books such as Hungry Girl 300 Under 300: 300 Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner Recipes Under 300 Calories and Deliciously G-Free: Food so Flavorful They’ll Never Believe It’s Gluten Free. So, unless you are dairy-free, you may want to give the deceptively named buttermilk a second look.