Years ago, when I didn’t understand about the connection between my mood and the foods I ate, I would struggle with the winter blues. By this time of the year, I would start to feel rather low energy. This affected my motivation to do things such as get out there, get fresh air, and socialize.
As a result, I would spend my days going to work and then going home and crashing. With low energy and feeling unmotivated, I would put together a high-carb dinner and munch on chocolate almonds while watching TV (glad to report this was before the Netflix days :D). This was also the time when I struggled a lot with my weight. I wanted to lose weight but my habits were hindering my progress.
As I slowly made changes to my eating habits by reducing stimulants (such as coffee and sugar), removing processed foods, and focusing on increasing whole foods, I started noticing changes in my energy levels AND my mood/winter blues. It also became easier to make better choices around food because I slowly stopped craving processed and sugary foods.
Since then I learnt that to maintain more stable mood and beat the winter blues, I need to take a holistic approach and make sustainable changes (which can also sustain throughout the entire year).
I would like to share with you 3 key things I do on a regular basis to increase my energy levels and mood throughout the winter:
1- Maintain healthy eating habits throughout the year:
It is so easy to overindulge on sugar and refined carbohydrates in the winter (especially over the holidays) but this is a recipe for blood sugar imbalances, which is directly linked to low mood and fatigue. Focus on getting proper nutrition by eating a variety of foods and keeping blood sugar levels stable. To balance your blood sugar levels, is best to start by eating small regular meals that contain some protein, fiber and healthy fats until you can manage to eat every 3 to 4 hours without experiencing major changes in your concentration levels or hanger.
Make sure you’re getting of these key nutrients for beating the blues everyday: vitamin B6, B12, folic acid, Vitamin C, zinc, magnesium, chromium and essential fatty acids. It is also important to consume good quality protein to ensure you are getting all essential amino acids and additional amino acids. Tryptophan and tyrosine are precursor of neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine respectively and absolutely essential in regulating mood and motivation.
Foods I recommend you eat on a regular basis to get those nutrients and improve your mood include: Nuts and seeds (e.g. chia seeds, flax seeds, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, etc.), avocado, olive and coconut oils, organic eggs, good quality proteins including oily fish; brown rice, oats, fruits and vegetables (especially green leafy vegetables), small quantities of dark chocolate, among others.
2- Get fresh air EVERY DAY:
Many of us go into hibernation mode because is cold out there but getting natural light and fresh air on a daily basis is absolutely essential in regulating our mood. The amount of serotonin our brain produces is directly related to how much daylight we are exposed to (click here for more info). My rule is to get out there for a 15 minute walk every single day.
Once I’m out there, I love it and find it easy to get anywhere between 30 and 45 minutes of time outside. Getting out there is the hardest part so if I’m feeling lazy I tell myself, 15 minutes out there and then you’re can do whatever else you like.
For some of us introverts, is really easy to go home at the end of a long day, put on our pjs and read, watch a show, cook or [enter an activity of your choice]. While I am a huge proponent of having down and alone time, staying social throughout the winter months will do wonders for your mood. We are much more likely to smile, laugh and talk things out when we are with friends, family and even strangers than when we are all by ourselves.
I recommend you set a weekly coffee or lunch/dinner date with a friend, join a dance class, find something you like and make time for it on a weekly basis. I attend a dance class every Tuesday night and have a lunch date and work date with my friend every Friday. These are non-negotiables; they get me out of the house/office and doing things I enjoy tremendously.
Of course, there are many aspects that impact our mood (such as how much sleep we get, food allergies or sensitivities, our mindset, to the biochemistry of our brain among others) but these are 3 simple and often overlooked changes we can make and which will have a great impact on our mood and energy levels.