Winter, a wonderful part of the year, can also create some serious health challenges for us. These can be due to both stress and an unhealthy diet. More than any other time of year, there are extra to-do’s and expectations. Add in the changes in the weather and we can zap our precious energy. The long, dark winter days may mean more treats are available, and it’s tempting to eat an excess of sugar when you’re busy trying to get things done and not taking the time to eat until you’re absolutely starved. Both of these circumstances can drain us of our energy and make us sick.
Stress is a part of our lives whether we like it or not. Some stress can keep us healthy and active. It’s the chronic stress that causes problems emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically. It robs our bodies of nutrients and if left unchecked, can cause disease in the body.
The reason? Stress can prevent nutrients from being absorbed (check how your stomach feels after a fight or when you’re nervous) or the body may need more nutrients to get the job done because with the extra stress, it’s working harder.
Stress can also make us crave sugar, caffeine, (coffee/soda) or alcohol (sugar, too). There are primarily two reasons this happens. The adrenal glands which are involved with stress are also involved with sugar/insulin regulation and they want energy. When the adrenals are continually being whipped from too much stress or sugar, the blood sugar begins to be affected which affects our brain and how we think and feel. We’re up and feeling great, and then we crash and feel lousy. The more this happens, the harder it is for the brain to tell what is real and what is not, creating more stress and cravings.
With so many things to do, who has the time to eat? And all of a sudden, we need to, and the first thing we reach for is often something fast and easy. Refined food is usually processed or packaged food or food loaded with sugar. Sugar and packaged foods do not have nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Instead, they use up the nutrients that are in the body. This sets up cravings (a sweet tooth monster!) because the body is trying to get some energy so it can do its job in keeping us healthy.
To stop the cravings and the increased appetite, eat whole complex carbohydrates such as vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains that take time to cook and to chew. Good examples are brown or wild rice, millet, quinoa, buckwheat or 100-percent sprouted or whole-grain bread. They have a nutrient rich fibrous casing that is digested slowly, so the body doesn’t experience the highs and lows associated with sugar. They also provide vitamins, minerals, and enzymes to help the body with the digestion process. With the rich fibrous casing you’re also getting fats that the body needs to reduce sugar cravings. Healthy fats also come from nuts, seeds, fish, avocados, butter, olives and coconuts.
We need to eat 3 to 6 small meals per day, starting with breakfast, and including whole complex carbohydrates, a little fat and protein at each meal. When the body is getting regular meals, energy levels stay more consistent, cravings stop and the body is better able to handle stress. And when you do get a craving for sweets, look to your whole fruits and vegetables. Many are very sweet plus they have nutrients and fibre that the body needs.
You can manage to eat in a more healthy way during the winter. Then take care of your stress. Get some exercise. Take time out for yourself. Soak in the tub. Take a nap. Do something that is relaxing and fun. Delegate! Allow someone else the opportunity to learn something new. Be kind to yourself.
Robin Reid is a nutritional and herb coach and educator. She can be reached at 250-754-9250, or visit