Have you noticed that people are getting bigger? The joke was ‘are you doing the covid 5k?’, no not the run, the 5k that we put on during lockdown. Most of us will gain weight in the dark months of winter due to increased calories and a reduction in exercise. My fear is that with covid lockdown and winter we could be looking at 10K not 5.
So here we are again the winter is starting. Officially it starts on December 21st but from the point of view of our body the change mainly begins when the clocks go back. The disruptions this causes in your body clock can have an impact on our appetite and here comes that winter weight. We do get the extra hour in bed but we also get an extra hour to eat. The first night we get and extra hour of sleep but the habit in our brain tends to make us wake up at our usual time effectively an hour earlier than normal. It will take a few days and sometimes weeks for our internal body clocks to adjust to the new time. There are several effects that this can have on our bodies, mind and emotions.
Emotion and well being
Serotonin in the brain is both a hormone and a neurotransmitter, it is responsible for our wellbeing. It is effected by daylight. Once the clocks go back and it gets darker the levels of serotonin start to reduce and with it can reduce our sense of well being. Or we might just feel flat and listless though for some this will mean full blown depression.
Carbohydrates and Serotonin and comfort food
In the winter our intake of carbs increases quite naturally. In response to the digestion of carbs our brain secretes more serotonin. In effect we eat more carbs in the winter months to makes us feel better. We self medicate with carbohydrates. Sticky puddings, cakes, biscuits, crisps, bread, pasta and so on. It is comfort food and that is real. More carbs, more serotonin, more wellbeing but also…more weight.
Sleep is therapeutic it is the time when our body and mind regulate and rebalance chemically and physically and also emotionally. With the change in time the disturbance created by the change in our sleep pattern also changes our hormones. Sleep deficiency can lead to a rise in the hormone Ghrelin which is produced in the stomach and is responsible for making us feel hungry. There is also a disturbance in the hormone Leptin. Leptin is responsible for making us feel full so that we stop eating. Once we continually feel more hungry, but have no sensation of feeling full, the weight can just pile on. In general obesity can be a result of the imbalance of these two hormones but at this time of year we are all susceptible to weight gain.
Comfort and inactivity
The change is in both in our hormones and neurotransmitters that will effect our feelings, thoughts and behaviours including our energy levels. This is why sitting in front of a fire and eating carbs while watching the telly can feel very comforting. However, there are things that we can do to avoid over eating, gaining weight and losing our mood. This is to do with what we eat and when we eat.
Opt for filling foods
Some foods are light and even if they are nutritious can leave us feeling hungry. Foods that make us feel fuller for longer will limit bathe effects of needing to eat more. Pulses such as chickpeas, lentils, and beans are great at keeping you full for longer, as they are high in both fibre and protein. Other filling, high-fibre foods include oats, whole wheat bread, carrots, broccoli, and bananas.
Getting as much sunlight as possible
Even on an overcast day, or in the dark of winter, exposure to natural light is beneficial for your sleep schedule as it sends signals to the rest of your body telling you that it’s daytime and you should be awake. It also gives your body the distinction between day time and night time and when we should be sleeping. If we stay indoor for the majority of time of if we go to work in the dark and come home in the dark we lose the daylight effect. Try to get outside in the morning and at lunch time to help wake you up and to regulate your body clock. Sit near a window if you are stuck inside and, if needed, use some daylight bulbs.
Get off your butt
Although that sofa by the fire looks very tempting this is really the time when you need to get moving. Raising your heart rate for as little as twenty minutes will make your brain release all the feel good endorphins. It will raise your mood, give you energy and make you feel less sluggish. It may take a bit of will power to get moving but the benefits are huge. Least of all you will be less tempted to eat comfort food and you will also burn any extra pounds that you have gained. I try to run a 5k Monday, Wednesday and Friday and restrict my calories on a Tuesday and a Thursday. I am not persistent every week but as long as I do enough it works. This means that I can then have a nice hot chocolate or a mulled wine and not feel too guilty.
Check you weight, not obsessively, be aware of what you put on and what you lose. Be fit, be healthy, be happy