The Hemp Connection + thinking

Seasonal Hormone Changes: They're there…they're natural…here's how to deal with them

OK! We've cruised past the candy corn…mastered the Thanksgiving pie…what is it about these nasty carbohydrate cravings that make it so darn hard to keep a respectful distance from all of these holiday sweets?!?!?

You may not be imagining things. And you may not be a nutrition wimp. Your body chemistry actually changes with the seasons.

Did you know, for example, cholesterol is actually higher on average midwinter than it is midsummer? Yup, so if you have your annual physical midwinter, get a high reading, and go on medications, the drop in your followup may not be entirely due to medication. It's just how nature does things.

One of the toughest seasonal changes is mood. Back in the days when we were more exposed to the elements, it probably made sense to want to be more sluggish and a little heavier. No need to waste body heat on exercise when we need it for warmth. And a little extra fat for insulation was more than welcome.

Nowadays, we prefer to have our weight be as stable as possible, and this time of year it can be hard to achieve that. About 20% of the population (and 4 times more women than men) experience such a radical shift in mood, hormones, and biochemistry, that they qualify for an official diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Symptoms include: tiredness, depression, crying spells, irritability, trouble concentrating, physical aches, decreased sex drive, trouble sleeping, less desire to be physically active, increased appetite (especially for carbohydrates), and weight gain.

I'm guessing that a pretty high percentage of the audience reading this is thinking,"But this is how I feel all the time!". If you have PCOS, that may be true, but it may become more intense…progressing to out of control…in the dark of winter. Here are some strategies to try to help you get through the winter solstice. Remember, from December 22 on…it's all uphill!

1. Check your vitamin D levels. Low vitamin D may be part of the problem. If it is, be sure to supplement.

2. Do your best to get outside. It's hard with short days and cold temperatures, but even a few minutes a day can make a difference. Even on a cloudy day! Ultraviolet rays are present even with cloud cover. Take advantage of them.

3. Consider phototherapy. I have recommended light devices for clients living in places like Seattle and Alaska, and they can work wonders. All they do is bring sunshine indoors. Working, studying, or reading the mail in the presence of one on a regular basis can help to promote a biochemistry similar to what you naturally experience in the summer.

4. If your SAD progresses to where the symptoms are incapacitating or dangerous, antidepressant therapy has also been found to be helpful. Ask your physician for a discussion about your options.

5. Of course, you know I'm going to say this…prioritize diet. Take advantage of comfort foody crockpot meals like chili, and lentil soup, to help keep your blood glucose stable. Don't forget the protein. It's easy to forget about protein in the mountain of Christmas candy and cookies we're about to tread through, but a little packet of Justin's Nut Butter or string cheese stashed in your purse or briefcase can work wonders for staving off those carbohydrate demons.

6. Don't panic. If you've noticed over the years that your weight naturally fluctuates 5, even 10 pounds between winter and summer, and it naturally self-corrects without radical dieting, you are simply in tune with Mother Nature. Appreciate the fact that you can get by with fewer bulky sweaters and scarves to stay warm, and don't get caught up in unhealthy eating and exercise habits to try and"fix" what is likely a completely natural phenomenon.

Golden, R.N., B.N. Gaynes, R.D. Ekstrom, et al."The Efficacy of Light Therapy in the Treatment of Mood Disorders: A Review and Meta-analysis of the Evidence." Am J Psychiatry 162 (2005): 656-662.

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Seasonal Hormone Changes: They're there…they're natural…here's how to deal with them + thinking