April 16, 2024
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April 16, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Dear Jenn,

I’m not a winter person. I hate the cold and snow. During the winter I can’t motivate myself to do much. I become lazy, inactive, and feel down. It’s also a challenge for me in terms of weight management. I easily gain eight to 10 pounds. And in the warmer months I struggle to lose it. Any suggestions to get motivated this cold February?

Teaneck Snowbird


Dear Teaneck Snowbird,

Many people don’t like cold, wet and snowy winters. You seem like a true snowbird! If you’re able to get away to a warmer climate, it might lift the spirit and warm you up. Another thought: If you are unmotivated and emotionally low, you might be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This type of depression happens during a change of seasons. Shorter days and less daylight can trigger a chemical change in the brain leading to symptoms of depression. Let’s explore some options to help you get through the winter season.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), a British organization, recommends that SAD should be treated in the same way as other types of depression. This includes using talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or medicine, such as antidepressants. Light therapy is also a popular treatment for SAD, although NICE says it’s not clear whether it’s effective.

There Are Several Things You Can Do To Help Improve Your Symptoms:

Try to get as much natural sunlight as possible—even a brief lunchtime walk can be beneficial.

Make your work and home environments as light and airy as possible.

Sit near windows when you’re indoors.

Take plenty of regular exercise, particularly outdoors and in daylight. Read more about exercise for depression at https://bit.ly/3SIr1sd.

Eat a healthy, balanced diet.

Avoid stressful situations and take steps to manage stress.

Talk Therapies

Talk therapies focus on both psychological aspects (how your brain functions) and social aspects (how you interact with others).

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy based on the idea that the way we think and behave affects the way we feel. Changing the way you think about situations and what you do about them can help you feel better.

Counseling and Psychodynamic Therapy

Counseling is another type of talking therapy that involves talking to a trained therapist about your worries and problems.

During psychodynamic therapy you discuss how you feel about yourself and others and talk about experiences in your past. The aim of the sessions is to find out whether anything in your past is affecting how you feel today.


Antidepressants are sometimes used to treat severe cases of SAD, although the evidence to suggest their effectiveness in treating SAD is limited.

Antidepressants are thought to be most effective if taken at the start of winter before symptoms appear and continued until spring.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the preferred type of antidepressant for treating SAD. They increase the level of the hormone serotonin in your brain, which can help lift your mood. Other antidepressants are also available and should be discussed with a psychiatrist.

Light Therapy

Some people with SAD find that light therapy can help improve their mood considerably. This involves sitting by a special lamp called a light box, usually for around 30 minutes to an hour each morning. The light produced by the light box simulates the sunlight that’s missing during the darker winter months.

It’s thought the light may improve SAD by encouraging your brain to reduce the production of melatonin (a hormone that makes you sleepy) and increase the production of serotonin (a hormone that affects your mood).

Sunrise alarm clocks, which gradually light up your bedroom as you wake up, may also be useful for some people.


While any form of exercise can help, some exercises are better suited to treating SAD. Low-impact aerobic exercises are recommended. Walking, dancing and gentle stretching for 30 to 60 minutes per day would be optimal.

Regular exercise may help to improve quality of life and can have an antidepressant effect in depressive disorders (Malhi et al., 2020). Exercise may increase the level of serotonin in the brain, a neurotransmitter linked to mood regulation, sleep, libido, appetite and other functions (ESSA, 2018).


“Nutrition habits can definitely have an impact on your mood,” said Nicole Avena, PhD, a research neuroscientist and diet expert in New York City. “Variety and balance are important. If your eating pattern is unbalanced, it can upset other aspects of your health, including mood.”


Some Mood-Boosting Foods

Salmon and Rainbow Trout

Foods that include omega-3 fatty acids, which support brain health, and vitamin D, are a one-two punch. Salmon and rainbow trout are rich in both nutrients (National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS)).


People are drawn to high-carb junk food for a feel-good fix. But the payoff is short-lived. “Eating high amounts of added sugar, which can cause highs followed by lows, can cause swings in mood or irritability,” according to Ginger Hultin, RDN, the author of “Anti-Inflammatory Diet Meal Prep.” Strawberries, raspberries and blueberries offer a sweet taste without a ton of added sugar.

Whole-Grain Bread + Protein

Adding chicken or hummus, cheese and vegetables to whole-grain bread may be the perfect mood-supporting lunch. “Combining healthy carbs and protein can be a good way to support your mood in the winter because the protein will keep you full longer, and the carbs will give your body the proper sugar it needs without the crash,” said Avena.

Green, Black or White Tea

People with SAD often drink too much coffee in search of a mood lift. Tea provides a milder dose of caffeine and has other brain benefits. Tea drinking has been associated with a 31% lower risk of depression, according to one study (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6627400/). The brew’s unique compounds, including tea saponin, L-theanine and EGCG (epigallocatechin, a tannin in green tea), all of which affect the neurotransmitter dopamine, reduce bodily inflammation, and improve the body’s stress response.

Green, Leafy Vegetables

Spinach, bok choy, kale, collard greens: These are packed with B vitamins that are also critical for brain function. In fact, research suggests that an overall deficiency in B vitamins is often associated with mood disorders. Restoring those levels may help improve mood. The research did not find that supplementing with B vitamins decreased depression or anxiety; it did make a difference in lowering stress levels, which can contribute to winter angst.


In one study, the percentage of people affected by seasonal affective disorder was four times higher in vegetarians compared with omnivores. Researchers suggest that the lack of certain nutrients, like B12, from animal products, and a greater focus on carbohydrate-rich foods (prioritized by vegetarians) lead to lagging energy. Consuming animal-based proteins during the winter may keep your vigor up.

Whole-Grain Pasta

Chewy and satisfying, whole-grain pasta fits into the category of the carb-rich foods without the post-refined carb slump. Ultra-refined carbohydrates can negatively affect your blood sugar. Whole grains contain fiber that blunts that response.

Dark Chocolate

Reaching for sugary foods when you’re down makes sense. It triggers a temporary serotonin rush to the brain. However, it also creates a vicious cycle. “It feels good in the moment, but it will also cause a crash that puts you back to where you were in the beginning,” said Avena. Dark chocolate has the ingredient cacao. The more cacao in a dark chocolate product. the less sugar content it will have.


According to the article “Water, Depression, and Anxiety” (https://bit.ly/3OOGSnW), posted on the website of Solara Mental Health in San Diego, 75% of brain tissue is water. Research has linked dehydration to depression and anxiety. Dehydration causes brain functioning to slow down and not function properly.


Feeling cold during the winter season? It may not be your favorite time of year, but feeling down or depressed is a concern. Going to a warm climate and getting sunshine can lift the spirit and the hormone serotonin. To get motivated, make a schedule to go to the gym for a personal training session or a walk outside with a friend. If you force yourself to get going, you are likely to keep going, and will probably feel better.

If you need support during the winter season, reach out to Nutrition Transformations. We can help motivate you to eat healthy and exercise to feel better.

Yours in good health,

Jenn Chapler MS RD CDN



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