Halloween kicks off a string of holidays that brings together family, friends, and fun. While the celebrations and festivities are ones that we look forward too; busier schedules, food-filled events, and cold weather can easily disrupt healthy routines. I have seen it time and time again in my practice. Clients hum along with healthy habits and appropriate weight loss through spring, summer, and fall, only to be tripped up by the winter months. If busy schedules and high-calorie foods weren’t enough to halt progress, researchers show that our bodies have stronger cravings for carbohydrate-rich foods and store fat more efficiently during the winter as well. While this metabolic shift was an advantage in the prehistoric days, it certainly doesn’t do us any favors now.

So how can we maintain a healthy body and mind during these challenging months? There is no better time than now to establish a winter self-care plan, and it starts with a realistic mindset of what you have the time and energy to accomplish.

Here are three proactive practices to get you thinking about how to prepare for winter:

Self-Care Practice 1: Support Your Serotonin Levels

With winter comes less sunlight and therefore lower levels of the hormone, serotonin. Serotonin is a hormone responsible for good moods, sound sleep, and appetite regulation. With lower levels of serotonin, our body naturally finds itself craving more carbohydrates. For individuals fearing weight gain, carbs might be the first food they think about cutting out. However, restricting ultimately leads to more intense cravings and possibly unhealthy eating patterns surrounding that food. Instead, seek out high-quality carbs like whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and dairy, and time your carbs right. It serves us well to snack on quality carbs paired with protein or a healthy fat during the 3-4 pm afternoon energy slump. Carbohydrates help boost serotonin in the brain making us feel happy and sleep better, which brings up another great time to have a high-quality carbohydrate – before bed.

Self-Care Practice 2: Enlist Accountability Practices

We know that maintaining healthy habits is easier when you enlist the support of others or set up accountability systems. Examples of this might be setting an alarm to go to bed at night, meeting a friend for a walk instead of a happy hour, and keeping a food journal. While not all of our clients at McDaniel Nutrition keep food journals, we have found that it helps. Those who use a food journal lose two times more weight than those who don’t journal. One of our recent online monitoring services makes journaling as easy as taking a picture of your foods! We love seeing what our clients eat, and our clients love the close contact they have with us helping them stay on track during the challenging winter months.

Self-Care Practice 3: Carve Out Downtime

Holidays are notoriously busy with parties, gift exchanges, and family gatherings. While many of these events are ones we look forward to (or have no choice but to attend!) we do ourselves some good by saying the occasional “no.”  While it is often easier to say yes, we rarely regret the freed up time to do something we enjoy. Establishing the boundaries around downtime saves us time, conserves energy, and lowers stress. Lower levels of stress translate into better sleep, less stress eating, and lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.

It is true that winter is challenging, but if we are deliberate about listening to our bodies and taking care of our own needs, we will enter spring in the healthy place and space we deserve.

Jennifer McDaniel

Jennifer McDaniel is a Registered Dietitian, Media Spokesperson, and co-author of Prevention's Mediterranean Table Cookbook. She and her team of Registered Dietitians aim to help their clients go further, make change last, and unlock their potential. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband, and three young sons. If you are interested in working with Jennifer, please visit our contact page.