Winter, Stress and Calories

In past blog posts, we have talked about stress and different ways to mitigate its effects. Everything from intelligent training protocols and diet to optimizing sleep. Basically, we can experience stress as a result of environmental, physical mental and emotional triggers that we encounter in daily life, so there are many fronts to this battle. It’s important to remember that life is a balance between stress and relaxation. We exert ourselves with exercise so that we can come back to equilibrium later. It’s the natural ebb and flow relationship. So, as the holidays approach, we encounter a unique set of circumstances that challenge this balance. I love the holidays for the closeness to family and friends and the gatherings and food!  But since we all share similar fitness goals I assume that some of us have trepidation about gaining weight over the holidays and overindulging in general.  We have all worked super hard over the last few months and we don’t want to undo the gains we’ve made during the winter. Let’s explore a few ways we can minimize that possibility.

It may be the added responsibility of hosting thanksgiving dinner or family members from out of town, but the holidays have a unique way of derailing our normal rhythms and habits. I suspect that “winter” is enough to tilt us off our axis a bit. Shorter days naturally have a slightly negative effect on energy levels possibly through some interaction with Vitamin D, but more on that later. Seasonal affective disorder is not a new concept for those of us living in the northern latitudes. It’s not a stretch to assume that during the winter we are more likely to eat more junk food and drink more alcohol. Some of that is because of culturally accepted norms of behavior and some of it is self soothing through the darkest months of the year.  Some of it may just be to get through family drama over Christmas! Whatever the reasons, try to see these obstacles coming and plan for them.  Stick to your diet as much as possible.  Simply staying satiated with protein, vegetables and water earlier in the day before major gatherings can help you avoid overindulgence. 

There is definitely a place for celebration and loosening up on your diet around the holidays. A few days of calorie surplus isn’t going to really matter in the context of the entire year. But we also don’t want to end up in a food coma on the couch or let the days turn to weeks and completely fall off our path from halloween until new years day. It’s important to remember that staying as consistent with your usual routine is the best way to stay on the wagon. The opposite thinking goes, “i know I’m going to indulge later so I’ll just skip breakfast to make up for it.” While fasting the whole day before a big holiday dinner might seem like the best way to offset a calorie surplus, it will probably just have a rebound affect and lead to over-eating. Restriction is not the answer.

A quick reminder to think about Vitamin D status for the winter. The vitamin D counsel has provided data showing very strong evidence that Vitamin D deficiency is most common the farther north a person lives. Deficiency is seasonally related. On average, D levels are lower at the end of winter than at the end of summer. There also seems to be an inverse relationship between Vitamin D and parathyroid hormone (PTH) which is responsible for taking calcium from bones among other things. This process probably happens every winter to those of us who do not supplement. It may be worth getting a Vitamin D test once or twice a year to see if your sun exposure and supplementation is working for you. I hope all of you have a happy and healthy holiday season. See you round’ the gym!