When winter hits, the cravings for high-carbohydrate comfort foods come with it. With fewer fresh foods available, you may fall into a rut with food choices and be tempted by unhealthy comfort foods. As the weeks move into the holiday season, temptations for unhealthy food grows and stress can increase emotional eating. Additionally, shorter days and cold temperatures make squeezing in your workouts more challenging.

Our body undergoes changes as the seasons change. The differences of periods of light and darkness that occur have profound effects on our circadian rhythms. In fact, research shows that we have entire groups of genes that are impacted by circadian rhythms and many of these genes can impact body weight (causing either loss or gain) and hormones such as adiponectin, which increases insulin sensitivity and fat burning.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that typically affects people over the winter, may cause sufferers to eat more when it’s cold and dark. We know that food itself is a comfort as far as mood goes, because it actually impacts the same circuitry of the brain as drugs do. So people use food medicinally to make themselves feel better. Those who struggle with their mood in the winter may find themselves consuming more high-calorie comfort foods at this time of year.

We are less active and motivated in the winter months leading to fewer calories burned and a slumbering feeling. Exercise does burn calories but it also serves as a mood boosting activity that keeps your metabolism and spirits up. Studies also show that people who are more active tend to eat less.

So what can we do to combat our chemical and emotional shifts that cause many of us to gain 3 to 5 lbs from October to January? A few small steps can give us a different approach to those cold months.

Exercise – Setting a regular fitness schedule is the key to being engaged and active while keeping weight off in winter.

Avoid excessive alcohol – Alcohol is loaded with calories and it’s a depressant and central nervous system down regulator. Yes you may feel great after a round or two, but think on how you feel overall and your long term plans to stay happy and healthy this winter.

If you think you have symptoms of S.A.D (see above) seek professional help first and foremost. Also up your vitamin D intake, increase vitamin C intake and take a B complex in order to protect cells and feed the hormone factory.

The sun shines differently in the winter and summer. May we find ways to shine differently in the seasons of our lives.