Those of us who experience the cold, short days of winter know that the way we face the season can make all the difference in whether we enjoy or just endure the winter months. The foods we choose, the amount we eat and other factors impact our mood, energy and whether we are generally healthy throughout the winter. With the right strategy, you'll not only get through the winter in a better mood; you may even delight in this snowy season.
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Comfort with food, not sweets
Warm soup is like a cozy blanket on a cold day. Then again, so is a gooey, freshly baked dessert. While it may be tempting to go with the latter, what your body really wants are hearty, nutrient-rich foods like soups, stews or casseroles that fill you up with satisfying vegetables, lean protein and complex carbohydrates.
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This combination is likely to provide an array of vitamins and nutrients associated with boosting mood. Not only will sweets not satiate you, they usually leave you craving more. If sweets are your go-to food for enduring winter, then do what you can to have less of them around. Remember: We crave sweets when we're feeling tired, bored and in need of a pick-me-up.
Over the past several years, researchers have been studying the essential omega-3 fats found in fish and have come to add "improves mood" to the list that already included benefits for our heart, brain and eyes. Keep frozen fish on hand for when you can't make it into the market to ensure you are meeting the American Heart Association guideline of two servings of fish per week.
Small, frequent meals
Manage fatigue and sustain energy with small, frequent meals. This approach to getting through the day controls hunger and makes it easier to eat just the right amount without overdoing it.
Take time to prepare meals and snacks ahead of time and you will be less likely to end up at the vending machine or eating from the candy bowl on a co-worker's desk. With just a little effort, you can take charge of your day and your diet.
Balance, balance, balance
However, it's not enough to just plan to eat frequently throughout the day. You need to eat the right foods so that you feel energized. Make the wrong choices and you will likely be left hungrier and more tired (definitely not what you are looking for).
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Make sure each meal and/or snack is a balanced combination of wholesome (complex) carbohydrates along with lean protein and/or heart-healthy fat. Good snack ideas include apples and light sharp cheddar, whole-grain crackers topped with natural peanut butter, nonfat Greek yogurt or trail mix of dried fruit, cereal and dry-roasted nuts.
Keep a food log
Ah, snow days. Cozy inside while the winter weather covers the roads with ice and snow, leaving us unable to get away from our house (or, more importantly, our kitchen).
For some of us, this presents the tremendous challenge of not eating our way through the day. If this sounds like you, then gain control with simple pen and paper. Keep a detailed food log of everything you eat as you eat it. Not only will this make you more conscious of your choices and food intake, it will provide important feedback at the end of the day when you are unsure just how much you had.
Just as important as how you eat is how active you are. Exercise boosts your mood and makes a long winter far more tolerable. Bundle up and go for a walk, snowshoe or engage in some other outdoor activity to get you out of the house and change your mindset. A little sunshine and fresh air is bound to improve your mood!
Readers -- What foods and activities do you gravitate toward when you’re feeling blue? Does cold weather make you feel energized or less active? Do you experience a mood boost when you eat certain foods? Leave a comment below and let us know!
Allison Stowell, M.S., RD, CDN, is the registered dietitian for the Guiding Stars Licensing Company, a company devoted to helping you find the good, better and best choices at the supermarket. A working mom of two, Allison enables individuals to make positive, sustainable changes in their eating habits by stressing conscious eating, improving relationships with food and offering a non-diet approach for reaching and maintaining ideal body weight.