6 Diet Changes That Can Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder

seasonal affective disorder treatment

Photo: KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock

Like it or not, Daylight Savings is right around the corner. Sure, that means there are holiday parties and family feasts to look forward to, but the cold, dark, short days ahead can be downright depressing. They make it especially hard to peel yourself out of pajamas and into a puffer coat. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mood condition related to the changing of the seasons, which can make you feel tired, irritable, and generally “heavy.” There’s a wide spectrum of how intensely people experience it—from feeling the “winter blues” to becoming downright depressed—and it usually goes away once the weather starts to improve.

In addition to getting outside for the five hours of daylight or sticking your head into a factory-made lightbox, there are other things you can do to fight feelings of SAD, and you can start by changing your diet. As it turns out, the way you eat in the winter can actually help boost your mood. Read on for pro tips on how to feel your best using food. Hot chocolate? Totally a go!

Limit your carbs

There’s a reason why Christmas cookies are always so hard to resist. “Some people experience carbohydrate cravings in the winter time, and they need to be judicious about how they satisfy their desire for carbs so that they don’t come to rely on them,” says Jeff Rossman, the Director of Life Enhancement at Canyon Ranch. Refined carbs cause a rise in blood sugar, which is followed by a plunge in insulin levels that results in fatigue and sluggishness. Stick to whole grains, which we all know are healthier anyway, and be conscious of how often you’re reaching for seasonal candy or holiday leftovers.

Try a Mediterranean diet

If the idea of saying no to comfort food all winter has you balking, you’re not alone. Happily, there’s another way to have your carbs and eat them too: By using the Mediterranean Diet. The Italian-favorite style of eating has been shown to lower depression, and includes small portions of rice and pasta. Thing is, it focuses more on the plant based aspects of a meal—aka fruits and vegetables—than the starches. Be sure to include healthy fats, like olive oil and avocados, instead of the not-so-good-for-you ones like butter.

Stick with lean proteins

Is there anything cozier on a chilly Sunday afternoon than vegging out with a bowl of chili (preferably under a cashmere blanket while watching When Harry Met Sally)? Simply swap out your beef for lean protein. Certain amino acids, like the tryptophan found in turkey, can help with lowering anxiety, which is one of the symptoms of seasonal depression.

Consider plants your pals

Fruits and vegetables are energy powerhouses during the winter months. Also, consider replacing animal proteins with nuts and seeds as often as you can. Folic acid, a B-vitamin that’s found naturally in plant-based foods, has been shown to help boost your mood. And trust me, spaghetti squash is just as delicious as the real deal.

Omega-3 fatty acids FTW

Thankfully, salmon is a winter special, so it shouldn’t be too hard to make it a mainstay in your diet during the colder months. There’s evidence that the Omega-3s in fish oil can be beneficial to the treatment of depression, so even if you can’t stomach fatty fish, consider adding a fish oil supplement into your routine.

Add in some vitamin D

We all know that mood-boosting vitamin D comes from the sun, so what do we do once we see less of it? “Many people in the fall and winter, when people don’t get exposed to sunlight sufficiently, they experience a drop in their vitamin D level,” says Rossman, stressing that many people can benefit from taking a supplement. Or, book a ticket to Hawaii. That works, too!