November 21, 2018
Seasonal Affective Disorder:
What it is and What to do About it?
It’s that time of year again—a time of cool breezes, colored leaves and holiday preparation. Fall and winter are exciting times… Unless you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). If you struggle with winter depression, this time of year is not filled with joy and anticipation. Instead, you probably feel like hiding under the covers until spring arrives in several months…
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Everyone has the blues now and then. But SAD is a depressive state that occurs seasonally, year after year, usually in the fall and winter. If you suffer from SAD, you may feel perfectly normal during the spring and summer months, but starting around October or November, symptoms begin showing up.
Because this type of depression come and goes with the seasons, you may wonder if it is all in your head. It isn’t. This is a real condition and can have a devastating impact on your life.
Researchers still don’t know the exact cause of SAD, but there are some factors that seem to be involved, and they involve the decreased amount of sunlight that fall and winter bring.
Melatonin: Melatonin is a hormone that impacts mood and sleep. As the seasons change, your melatonin levels can fluctuate and may cause feelings of depressions.
Serotonin: When the amount of sunlight drops, so can your serotonin levels. Since this chemical helps you have feelings of well-being and happiness, not having enough of it can cause your mood to drop.
Internal clock: Some scientists think that decreased sunlight disrupts your normal rhythms of wakefulness and sleepiness. The result is sad and depressed feelings.
What are the Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
SAD will often manifest itself as feelings of sadness or depression. You may feel as though you cannot get enough sleep—struggling to get out of the bed in the morning, feeling drowsy during the day and going to bed earlier than you usually do.
Your energy and concentration may also run low, and this can affect your productivity at work and at home. Of course, not having the energy to ‘get things done,’ only leads to frustration and more feelings of depression. You may also notice weight gain. Typically, SAD sufferers will crave foods high in carbohydrates and can gain between 9 and 30 pounds each year.
Finally, your social life may suffer. If you are depressed, you just won’t enjoy being around others as much as you used to. This can turn into social withdrawal which makes your feelings of depression and sadness even worse.
Now for the Good News – Ways to Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
If you think that you may be one of the millions of people who are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder, you will be happy to know that you have many treatment options available. Try experimenting with different treatments until you find one or a combination that works for you:
Light therapy: Up to 85% of winter depression sufferers are helped by simply sitting under a therapy light. The bright light stabilizes the out-of-balance chemicals in your body, helping you to feel less depressed and more like yourself. The best lights are those between 2,500 and 10,000 lux.
Vitamin D3: Vitamin D is frequently referred to as “The Sunshine Vitamin” because your body produces it when exposed to sunlight. In fact, just 20-30 minutes of sunlight will produce 10,000 – 50,000 IUs of Vitamin D. Why is this important? Vitamin D is actually a hormone that has important roles in supporting a healthy heart, cellular replication, immune system, mood & mental health, muscles, blood sugar levels, and more!
Exercise: Exercise is a powerful player in the fight against SAD. When you exercise, your body releases “feel good” chemicals called endorphins. These chemicals cause you to feel happy, confident and bring about a feeling of well-being. The elated feelings that endorphins bring are comparable to the feelings that morphine and heroin create. To release endorphins, you will need to sustain your workout for about 30 minutes.
Dawn Simulators: Unlike the spring months, in which the light of dawn and dusk changes gradually, the winter months bring a much more abrupt change of light. This may be one of the aggravators of SAD. Try a dawn simulator. These appliances can be programmed, much like an alarm clock, to gradually brighten your room each morning before you wake up. Some SAD sufferers have had great success with dawn simulators.
You are not alone if you are beginning to feel depressed with the shortened days that we are experiencing. Experiment with some of the treatment options and especially start exercising. Before you know it, the days will begin lengthening out again!
December 1, 2018
Balancing Cortisol for Weight Loss and Health
How too Much Cortisol can lead to Decreased Health and Increased Belly Fat
Some have called it the “master” of all hormones. Others curse it for its ability to wreak havoc on our body’s fragile endocrine balance. In spite of the mixed opinions one thing is certain: cortisol is a powerful hormone necessary for life. But if its level is not optimal in your body, your health could suffer.
What is Cortisol?
The hormone cortisol is produced in the adrenal glands and is primarily responsible for regulating blood sugar, helping to metabolize fats, protein and carbohydrates and assisting in managing our stress response. We all have times of stress in our lives, and cortisol helps us to function during these times.
When the stress goes up, cortisol kicks in and delivers help. We get a quick burst of energy, our memory sharpens, our immunity increases, and our sensitivity to pain decreases. These are all important and natural functions of cortisol and ensure that we are able to weather the curve balls that life throws at us.
However, if the stress doesn’t let up, neither does the cortisol. Unfortunately, what is healthy in small bursts becomes dangerous over the long term. If you have persistent stress in your life, then you have cortisol levels that are out of balance: your body makes so much cortisol that it detrimentally affects your health. This leads to adrenal fatigue.
When you have prolonged, high levels of cortisol in your bloodstream
you will crave foods that are high in carbs (like cake and cookies),
you will gain weight in your abdominal area (which increases your risk of heart disease and diabetes), and
you will have trouble sleeping
Cortisol and the Circadian Rhythm
Our bodies produce different chemicals during the day and night that control our sleep, energy and mood. The natural rhythm of this cycle is known as the Circadian Rhythm, and cortisol is a key player.
Under normal circumstances, your body produces cortisol in amounts largely determined by the clock. Levels tend to be higher in morning—triggered by the emerging daylight--giving you a boost of energy to jumpstart your day.
As the day wears on, cortisol levels should drop, helping to prepare you for a good night’s sleep. Likewise, Melatonin (another hormone that affects your energy and sleep habits) levels should be lower in the morning but as the daylight fades, they should increase, helping you to begin relaxing and preparing for sleep.
However, if you are under constant stress or if your adrenal glands are not functioning properly, your cortisol level may not drop off during the day. Instead, it may actually rise and stay at a dangerously high level. By the time bedtime rolls around, you will not feel sleepy. You will feel “tired but wired,” and be unable to relax and fall asleep.
Reset Your Circadian Clock
If you suspect that your natural, circadian rhythm is disrupted, don’t despair. There are several things you can do to reset your clock so you can start sleeping better at night and waking up more refreshed in the morning.
Try the following tips:
Reduce stress. Easier said than done, I know. But many times our stress levels are correlated to our response to stressful situations. Learning how to cope with stress more effectively may be all it takes to balance your cortisol.
Be consistent. Going to bed and getting at the same time each day will help to regulate your circadian rhythm. Practice this habit to slowly coax your body into a schedule.
Use light wisely. Since your circadian rhythm is partially controlled by light, darken your room well when you go to bed, and flood it with light when it is time to get up. Try using a full spectrum light in the mornings.
Avoid naps. If your circadian clock is off, you may find that you get very sleepy in the afternoon. However, taking a nap may make it more difficult to fall asleep at night. Try to resist naps.
Eat most of your calories early. If you can eat the bulk of your daily calories earlier in the day as opposed to later in the day, you may find that you can recalibrate your circadian rhythms more easily.
December 14, 2018
Holiday Survival Guide: How to Get Through the Holidays With No Regrets
Let’s face it: it is hard to stick to a healthy eating and exercise plan during the holidays. Everywhere we turn there are tempting foods and drinks—from treats at office parties to our own traditional family favorites. When you add in a busy schedule filled with shopping and get-togethers that make it tough to squeeze in exercise, you have a recipe for disaster as far as our scales are concerned.
The good news is that you really can get through the holidays without gaining weight. It will take some effort, but you will thank yourself a thousand times when January 1st rolls around and you have no regrets!
Your Goal: Maintenance
In order to greet the New Year without tipping the scale, it is wise to try to maintain your weight during the next few weeks instead of trying to lose. Remember: you want to enjoy the holidays, not be miserable from deprivation. This means that you will allow yourself occasional treats and splurges and keep the scale where it is rather than trying to actually decrease your weight.
There are several ways to accomplish this:
Don’t skip your workouts. Even moderate intensity workouts can burn 300-400 calories per hour. You need this calorie-burn to keep up with the richer food that you will be eating. You will also be less likely to overeat if you have just sweated through a hard workout!
Eat breakfast. People who eat breakfast consume fewer calories throughout the day than those who skip this important meal.
Keep a food diary. Write down every single thing you eat—even if it is only one bite of shrimp cocktail. It is a proven fact that keeping a food journal results in better weight control than not keeping one.
Monitor your hunger. Never show up at a party or buffet ravenous—you will most certainly overeat. Drink water and have a protein-filled snack (such as nuts or cheese) before arriving. This will help you to have more self-control around the temptations.
Weigh yourself twice each week. Normally it is not a good idea to step on the scale too often, but during the holidays it’s a great way to stay on track with your goals. If you see the scale start to creep, you can immediately take steps to correct it, such as backing off your calories for a day or two, drinking more water and adding in a little more exercise.
Watch your portion size. If you have an idea of how much food you are putting on your plate, you will be less likely to overdo it. Take a look at the chart to familiarize yourself with portion sizes as they compare to your hand.
Deal quickly with leftovers. If you have unhealthy leftovers in your home, you are likely to indulge. Don’t leave them sitting around. Freeze them, give them away or toss them. It’s not worth the temptation!
Check in with your future self. Every day, speak to yourself from the future—say, from January 1. Thank yourself for doing the tough work of self-discipline during these holiday weeks. You might say something like this:
“Thank you! I feel great! I’m no heavier than I was in November, I’ve stayed on track with my exercise, my energy is incredible and I’ve got the momentum to spend the rest of the winter getting in even better shape before spring gets here!”
Go public. Sound scary? It’s supposed to! Let others know what your current weight is and check in with them each time you weigh yourself. That kind of intense accountability will give you will power when the cheesecake and fudge starts showing up at the office!
You can survive the holidays with no added weight gain. Remember these tips and keep a vision of what you want to feel like on January 1 in mind. It’s going to be a great holiday season!
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