Jewish World Review Jan. 16, 2003 / 13 Shevat, 5763

Don't be SAD! Are you experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder?

By Bev Bennett | If you spend winter in a mild funk, huddled in bed with a stash of chocolate bars, ditch the candy and get outdoors. You'll avoid winter weight gain and feel better for making the effort, say medical experts.

Being inactive, eating a diet high in sugars and staying indoors could be signs that you're experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a mood disorder related to seasonal variations in light that leaves its sufferers feeling depressed. If you give in to the urge to hibernate, you may make yourself feel worse.

"Most people are light-deprived, especially in winter.'' Says Marie-Annette Brown, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Washington School of Nursing in Seattle. "The more time we spend indoors, the more depressed and anxious we are, and the more we crave carbohydrates, which makes us more likely to gain weight.''

Not everyone is susceptible to SAD. Younger people and women are most likely to suffer, and January and February are the peak months for the disorder in the Northern Hemisphere, says Andrea Rogers, supervisor for intensive outpatient programs in the department of psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles.

Melatonin, a sleep-related hormone secreted by the brain, is produced in greater amounts in the dark. It may also cause symptoms of depression, she says. The combination of hormonal changes, cold weather, and post-holiday let-down can cause the blues. But with a combination of outdoor exercise, light and a healthful diet, you can enhance your mood and maintain a healthy weight.

Consuming excess starches and sugars is detrimental because it creates a vicious eating cycle. "The worst formulas for mood boosters are alcohol and refined sugars,'' says Rogers.

Why? When you eat a cookie or candy, you feel better instantly. Unfortunately, the boost is short-lived. An hour later, you need more sugars or starches to prolong the feeling. Keep it up and you may be getting an extra 300-500 calories a day. Overeating and weight gain probably add to your depression, according to Brown, who is also co-author of "When Your Body Gets the Blues''.

Brown and Rogers both recommend that you cut back on candy and snack foods and include more fruits, vegetables, high-fiber whole grains and lean protein in your menus. If you're hungry, snack on cottage cheese, string cheese and turkey.

Leaving the house and bringing light indoors are just as important as what you eat, say the experts.

First turn off the television, which Rogers calls a "depression atĚ an unconscious level.'' Watching television prevents you from getting out and being with people.

Next, bundle up and go for a walk.

"The best thing you can do is get outside, even in the winter,'' says Brown. "Take a walk around the block. A short brisk walk will boost your serotonin levels, which in turn improve your mood. If you combine exercise and light, you'll boost your serotonin levels even more.''

Brown cites a study comparing the effects of a 10-minute walk with eating a candy bar. The candy eaters got a sugar "high'' that lasted 30 minutes before they "crashed'' and felt tired and tense. The walkers felt energized and cheerful for several hours after the exercise.

Walking in the snow is doubly helpful. Snow reflects light, and you can get up to four times the sunlight on a bright snowy day.

When you're indoors, rearrange your furniture so you're exposed to more light,'' says Brown. "Install a skylight. Place the computer so you're looking out the window as you sit. Place a chair near the window, and open your mail or read a book there. Looking out the window is therapeutic.''

You're more likely to get outside if you don't have to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Using a slow cooker to prepare a meal frees you up to enjoy the outdoors.

Bev Bennett is co-author of "The Dictionary of Healthful Food Terms'' Comment by clicking here.


© 2003, Bev Bennett. Distributed by TMSI