For people affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), nutrition and sleep routines vary a great deal between the summer and winter seasons. In winter, SAD sufferers tend to eat too much, especially carbohydrates and starchy foods, and gain weight. They may lose weight when summer rolls back around, but these people have a tendency to accumulate additional excess pounds each year. Over the years, this can result in obesity. SAD sufferers also need to sleep more than usual. Even after 10 or 12 hours of sleep at night, they sometimes remain tired and feel like they’re dragging all day. This resulting inactivity also causes weight gain.
Diet and exercise are important factors for our various states of wellness, including SAD, not only because they can have a positive effect on our mood, but also because they have beneficial effects on SAD itself. Research indicates that cyclic weight loss can be especially bad for an individual’s health. Despite the benefits, light therapy may be a disappointment for those who hope they’ll automatically lose weight once they start to feel better. For this reason, diet and exercise must be part of a program for treating SAD.
Though light therapy may help control the appetite and weight gain, often it is only partially effective, and sometimes exercising alone is not enough. It is very important to watch what you eat, especially if you are suffering from SAD during the fall or winter months. A dietician may prove to be a great help to personalize a diet for you. It is also possible to combine different elements of dietary approaches in order to create a program that works for you. In his book Winter Blues, Dr. Norman Rosenthal mentions three dietary approaches that offer the best perspectives for SAD sufferers:
- High-carbohydrate, reduced-calorie diets
- The Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet
- The Paleolithic Diet: Balancing carbs with protein
There is mounting evidence that regular aerobic exercise benefits depressed people in general, and for those who suffer from SAD, if exercise activities involve more lighting (such as outdoors) the effect may be even greater. If people choose an activity solely on the basis of its aerobic properties or therapeutic value, there is little chance they will stick with it for very long. It is important to choose a motivating and satisfying activity, and it can prove very motivational and useful to find someone to share this activity with you.
Seasonal Affective Disorder affects many people throughout the year, and though the experience and environment of depression can hinder motivation, remember that more exposure to direct sunlight (or artificial light therapy) as well as proper diet and nutrition can ease the effects and help you on your way through the SAD season.