Weight in Winter: 5 Tips to Halt a Gain

winter weight gainDo you worry about your weight in the winter? As frigid temps keep us bundled up, many of us keep eating. And, it’s so easy to keep eating because it’s easy to hide under loose sweaters and big coats. Weight gain in winter happens so easily. We may not have gotten out of the December holiday spirit as far as eating goes. Or, perhaps we are eating just because we are feeling “blue.” Winter can be depressing for many, so it might be time to figure out how to keep your weight in winter under control, to make for a more pleasant spring!

Seasonal Affective Disorder and depression

Seasonal Affective Disorder sunshine on lady helps her mood, fights winter weight gain

Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD

I have heard repeatedly from clients that all they want to do is keep eating because they feel so “blue” this winter. Occasionally, the clients suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This form of depression is related to seasonal changes. Seasonal Affective Disorder affects up to 5% of the population and can last almost half the year. It strikes both men and women, but more women are affected. Younger adults are more prone to SAD than older adults.

But, sometimes clients are just feeling down in the dumps because the winter is so long in the Midwest. So, barring a tropical vacation or moving, here are a few steps that can be taken to raise spirits and lessen weight gain this winter. Hopefully you can stop inappropriate eating and stop winter weight gain at the same time. Get healthy and manage your weight this winter for a joyous spring-sounds great, right?

1. Sunshine can halt weight gain in winter

Even the gloomiest areas in the Midwest will occasionally be sunny. Therefore, be sure to capitalize on it even if you need to bundle up to do so. Take a walk outside in those rays of sunshine. This will elevate your mood because the exercise and sunshine will affect your balance of key brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters include serotonin, melatonin, and endorphins. Serotonin helps regulate both your mood and appetite. Melatonin is necessary for regulating healthy sleep cycles-and we all know how important sleep is to our thought processes and overall well being. Endorphins are chemicals that lessen pain and can make us feel less hungry.

2. Light therapy instead of sun

Along the lines of catching natural light rays, researchers are aware that certain light spectrums, such as blue light, seem to help alleviate SAD. Many free-standing blue light lamps are available for easy purchase online. If purchasing a light therapy lamp, keep in mind that are many types available and there are a lot of factors to consider in terms of safety and efficacy. Eye safety is one factor to consider. Those with certain conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts, or diabetes should always check with their doctors before purchasing a light box.

3. Weight in winter and vitamin D

Many Americans have inadequate blood vitamin D levels. It’s an ongoing challenge for many to get enough vitamin D for various reasons. Research supports that getting your blood vitamin D levels in the right range is ammunition in fighting seasonal affective disorder. Bleak days and lots of warm bulky clothes limit the body’s ability to make the so-called “sunshine” vitamin. This is because vitamin D is produced by the body when sun shines on a compound on our skin. If that skin is covered, you are not going to be making it. If we cannot make it, we are able to supplement our diet with vitamin D. During winter months, dosages in the 1000-1200 IU range are probably safe for most people who have limited sun exposure. With that said, your blood levels are easily checked. Once checked, seek advise from a trusted medical professional on dosing for supplements.

4. Control your eating environment

While waiting for spring weather and freedom from the winter doldrums, don’t undo previous successful weight loss with binge eating just because of SAD or depression. Control your eating environment at home by ridding it of high temptation and high calorie foods. Setting yourself up for temptation with favorite treats staring you down will never work for weight loss or control as willpower is typically a short-term strategy.

5. Stock your kitchen appropriately

a well stocked kitchen

A well stocked kitchen goes a long way to both nourish and “comfort” you. There are plenty of healthier low sodium soups to stock up on. Consider some batch cooking of homemade soups and meals to grab when you want homemade comfort food. Increase your consumption of fruits, veggies, and lentils to increase your anti-oxidants and fiber. In addition to a myriad of health benefits, fiber fills you up which helps with preventing weight gain. Don’t be afraid of opting for frozen fruits and veggies at this time of year. They are just as nutritious as the fresh varieties which are harder to buy in the winter. When the warm weather comes, you will be happy that you did not pile on the weight due to winter blues.

Takeaway tips for winter weight control

Here’s to wrapping up winter. The sooner the better! Remember, an once of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Find you “light” to lift your mood, whether it is sunshine or blue light therapy. Check your vitamin D levels. Be smart with your kitchen by keeping it well stocked with nutrient dense lower temptation foods. By watching the quality of your diet this winter, you will be in a better position mentally and physically when springtime springs!

 

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Enough Vitamin D: A Challenge

getting enough vitamin D a challenge even with sunWhy is vitamin D important?

A large percentage of people worldwide are not meeting the challenge of getting enough vitamin D. Doctors and dietitians have known for decades that this nutrient is important for bone health, but the list of reasons why we need optimal levels is growing. Researchers note an extensive list which includes warding off cancer, heart disease, depression, dementia, certain skin diseases, and high blood pressure. As vitamin D receptors are everywhere in the body, any part of the body will be affected by a deficiency.

How come we aren’t getting enough?

It’s dubbed the “sunshine” vitamin because we can both make it from sun exposure and get it from food. Given the right circumstances, our bodies are very adept at making this vitamin. Ultraviolet light from the sun shines on a cholesterol compound on our skin, then that compound is transformed into a vitamin D precursor which gets absorbed into the blood. Over the next day, the liver and kidneys finish converting this compound to the active form of vitamin D.

The factors that interfere with making this vitamin are directly related to factors that block our exposure to the sun. Think sunscreen use, air pollution, city living, geography, and dreary winters. Even our skin pigment is a factor as darker-skinned people synthesize less vitamin D than lighter-skinned people.

Sunshine makes vitamin D: a challenge to get enough

Enough vitamin D: A challenge

Food sources vs sunshine

So if we cannot make it efficiently, how we can we get it from food? In terms of food sources, it’s interesting to compare sunshine vs. food. According to an old but very interesting 2009 AARP article (unknown author), you would need to eat the following amounts of food just to get the amount the amount of vitamin D your body makes in 10 minutes:

  • 6.5 pounds of mushrooms
  • 150 egg yolk
  • 3.75 pounds of salmon
  • 30 servings of fortified cereal
  • 2 pounds of sardines
  • 30 cups of fortified orange juice

Adult requirements

vitamin D challenge

While this is an interesting comparison, it is not a realistic diet strategy. The current adult recommendations for vitamin D intake are 600 IUs for those aged 19-70 and 800 IUs for those over 70 years old. Unfortunately, foods with vitamin D are limited. Some common foods with vitamin D content include:

  • 566 IU from 3 oz. swordfish
  • 440 IU from 1 tsp. cod liver oil
  • 400 IU from 3 oz. salmon
  • 228 IU from 3 oz tuna
  • 137 IU from 1 cup fortified orange juice
  • 120 IU from 1 cup fortified milk
  • 100 IU from 3/4 cup enriched cereals
  • 40 IU from 1 egg

As you can see, with limited sun exposure and limited foods with vitamin D, it can be challenging to have adequate vitamin levels. This is why supplementation is such a hot topic and why many people end up taking a supplement. The question is, “how much to take?”  A simple blood test determines if you need a supplement and how much to take.

What is your experience with vitamin D levels on your health and how did you determine you needed to supplement your diet?

For more thoughts on supplements for baby boomers.

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