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Wellness, Self-Care

Follow These Four Steps to Beat the Winter Blues

This time of year, I continually hear from my clients and friends that they’re feeling lethargic and moody. It’s no surprise to me.

As the weather continues to get colder and the daylight hours wane, many of us suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It’s a condition that is marked by reduced energy levels, feelings of sadness, disrupted sleep, and often unhealthy food choices that can exacerbate the effects of the disorder. Really, SAD is created by the perfect storm of these harsher winter conditions and self-imposed isolation at home.

1. Maintain a Healthy Sleep Schedule

Any time a client comes to me with concerns about winter depression, my first question is, “How much sleep do you get at night?” Look at an overtired child and it’s obvious why a good night’s sleep is imperative to maintaining consistent energy levels and feelings of emotional wellness. With one in three Americans short on sleep, I make developing good sleep habits a priority for my clients.

So forget about sleeping in and lounging around all morning in your PJs. You need to maximize your exposure to daylight hours by getting up and getting moving, which probably means going to bed a bit earlier so you can wake with the sun. That will support your body’s natural circadian rhythm and allow for a surge of cortisol, which is a naturally produced chemical in the body that we want to peak in the morning, to set the stage for an energy-filled day.

Conversely, try to create an environment conducive to falling asleep at bedtime. I advise wearing blue light-blocking glasses at night when you’re engaging with computer screens, phones, and tablets.

Blue light can suppress our body’s natural production of melatonin, and we need that melatonin to fall and stay asleep for a solid seven to eight hours, a widely recommended amount of sleep.

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2. Fresh Air and Friends

I always try to find the joy in winter, and while I live in Los Angeles, my travels often bring me to snow-covered locales that leave me in awe of the crystal-like covered scenery. Morning walks—like waking with the sun—are ideal in establishing that circadian rhythm and boosting your body’s cortisol levels.

And remember to invite friends to join you! Many of us become homebodies in the winter to avoid the cold and snow. Who doesn’t love curling up by the fire with a good book? But too much of that can fuel feelings of isolation from the very people we need to keep us engaged and connected. Don’t underestimate the value of face-to-face interactions with your loved ones in maintaining emotional well-being.

3. Making Your Meals Work for You with the Fab Four

I believe in eating foods that optimize nutrients and sustain energy, especially through long and often dark winter afternoons and evenings. That’s why I developed the Be Well Fab Four plan, a meal structure with a goal of having protein, healthy fat, fiber, and greens on every plate.

Regularly eating the Fab Four is even more important during the winter months when reduced access to fresh produce can leave us reaching for empty-calorie snacks. It’s one reason I created the Be Well Fab Four smoothie, which helps stave off mindless snacking. In fact, a meal composed of the Fab Four components will leave you satiated for four to six hours after eating by elongating your blood sugar and avoiding the spikes and crashes of high-glycemic foods and unbalanced meals.

Now, let’s talk breakfast. Your mother was right: it’s the most important meal of the day, and it’s even more crucial to get it right as part of an effort to avoid SAD. Think pasture-raised eggs, high-fiber toast, coconut yogurt, and pea shoots, all food choices that will help boost energy levels in the morning. One of my favorite go-to breakfasts is a Fab Four-inspired chia and flax seed pudding that will be sure to warm you on a cold winter morning.

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Warm Chia Flax Pudding

theinspiredhome.com

SERVINGS

Makes 1 bowl

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 Tbsp ghee or coconut oil (vegan)
  • 2 cups coconut or almond milk
  • 3 Tbsp chia seeds
  • 2 Tbsp ground flax seed
  • 3 Tbsp hemp hearts

Optional:

  • 4 Tbsp pecans, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp hemp seeds
  • ¼ cup mixed fresh berries

Choose sweetener:

  • 1 serving Primal Kitchen Vanilla Collagen Fuel Protein (keto, preferred)
  • 3 stevia drops (keto)

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a medium nonstick fry pan on medium heat, add 1 Tbsp of ghee, 1 cup of coconut milk, chia seeds, and flax.
  2. With a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, continuously stir all ingredients until pudding is thick, about 3 minutes.
  3. Pour warm pudding into a bowl, option to stir in sweetener of choice.
  4. Top with nuts, hemp seeds, coconut milk, and berries.
  5. Serve warm.

4. A Well-Stocked Kitchen Helps with Healthful Choices

Especially during the winter months, I make a big effort to keep staples on hand that are easy to prepare and that serve as building blocks of delicious and healthful meals. For my greens, I always have a big container of mixed greens—whether it’s baby kale or spinach or super greens. Right now I’m loving this blend of protein greens and pea sprouts from Organic Girl. You’ll also always find tons of lemons or limes in my kitchen to infuse water or to add acidity and brighten the flavor of a green smoothie.

For quick proteins I’ll either steam a fresh piece of fish or chicken, adding flavor with fresh herbs and citrus. And in my pantry, I keep cans of wild salmon, tuna, sardines, protein powders, and fiber sources such as flax and chia seeds. Avocados are delicious on their own and can be quickly turned into guacamole that packs a punch of healthy fat and fiber.

During the winter, we all typically crave more carbohydrates, so I make sure to stock up on complex carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes and fruit, and I advise my clients to limit their carbohydrates to one serving per meal. They will go much farther than a handful of potato chips in helping you power through the day.

Of course, winter is all about cozying up at home, being with loved ones, and cherishing the beauty that comes with the season. With mindfulness and planning, you can help yourself avoid SAD by taking extra care of yourself and might find that you have more energy than you could’ve imagined during what had previously been challenging months.

Copy by Kelly Leveque / Photography by Constance Mariena

This story originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2018 issue of The Inspired Home Journal, titled “Beat the Blues.”

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