Winter Is Coming!!
Most of us learned about the four seasons when we were younger, about spring, summer, autumn, and winter. Considering I grew up and still live in Southern California, there are really only two seasons: beach season and cute boots/sweater season. Now that I am entering my third winter in recovery from an eating disorder, I am experiencing a hunger thingy that seems biological. Trust me when I say, at first this totally freaked me. My ED seasons usually consisted of binging and purging from October to May. Then restricting, while working on the perfect tan from May back to October.
Being in recovery I am more aware than ever before of my natural body cues for hunger (that hunger thingy), so this puzzled me. Obviously, we are humans but we aren’t squirrels hoarding nuts for the winter. We SoCal folks don’t have cold winters, so why do we crave more food in cold weather? Is this biological? Or is it more of a social tradition? Here is what the Scientists say.
Dark Days Mean More Food
The tendency to overeat during the winter might come down to basic biology. Ira Ockene, MD, a cardiologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, told NPR that winter eating could just be our primitive impulses urging us to stockpile for the cold months ahead. A 2005 study Ockene conducted and published in the journal Nature found that food intake patterns do vary season to season, as does body weight. Researchers found that study participants consumed an average of 86 more calories per day in the fall, as compared to the spring. In fall, participants also ate the highest total amount of fat and saturated fat. The lowest levels of physical activity were observed in the winter.
In his interview with NPR, Ockene also said that less light prompts us to seek food and eat it faster, offering another explanation for why we eat more as the days get shorter.
This gives a scientific explanation of seasonal food patterns, but there is more to it.
Warning Winter Memories May Cause Munchies
According to some scientists, winter weight gain is just a product of our environment, not biology. From Halloween to Super Bowl there are gatherings centered on tasty treats. Humans naturally socialize around food. From primitive man to modern, people have always gathered around the “campfire” to socialize and celebrate.
Our winter eating habits could also be born from opportunity. I feel like if that is so then the opportunity for food is all year long. In our country, we celebrate weekly with shopping trips to the grocery store, or you could just go to Costco and celebrate yourself. I have done that.
The reason I bring this to light is because food, especially during holidays triggers strong memories. This plays a major factor in binge eating, emotional over eating, and other disordered eating behaviors. The holidays sometimes bring strong associations with foods. Whether it’s cake, cookies, turkey, or pies, these foods are often tied to memories good and bad. If they are good memories, one may keep eating the food in a pursuit to recreate a moment with loved ones. If it is a bad memory, the holidays could trigger some depression. Just like the old saying “misery loves company,” well, food can be that company.
Moderation is the Answer, but ED doesn’t Care
Health experts say that moderation of holiday goodies and festive drinks, along with moderate exercise and sunlight will chase those winter blues away. But what about those of us with eating disorders or recovering from eating disorders? Moderation is a beautiful idea, but our brains are not chemically wired the same as “normal folks.”
Certain chemicals ferry signals around the brain. These messengers are called neurotransmitters. Some play important roles in stress, mood and appetite. Serotonin and dopamine levels are not balanced in people suffering from eating disorders. This causes many issues for someone who is suffering to STOP when they are full or STOP feeling the panic attack around the Thanksgiving Day table. Our Brains are different. This isn’t an excuse. It’s real science. Google: sciencenewsforstudents.org.
Let’s Get into Solution
Whether you are a client, a sponsee, friend, or family member, when we talk of issues, we must talk about SOLUTION. Here is my top 6:
1.Black stretchy pants (just kidding)- But maybe cute clothes that make you feel comfortable and stellar about yourself. Not some skanky number you think other people want to see. Be you and work that thang.
2.Support Team- Who is in your support team? Who and where can you go when you feel unsafe or just off? For me I go to support groups weekly, and I am so blessed to have a circle of friends in recovery. Together we support one another daily. This has been a major game changer in my life.
3.Be open and honest with you family- Letting a trusted family member know about your struggle is hard, but it may be helpful around family meals. I do advice that you feel safe around mealtime. Be vulnerable and let someone help you.
4.Preset appoints with a professional eating disorder specialist- Therapist, Dietitians, Coaches, there is specialist out there that wants to be of service. I recommend looking into this.
5. Be Creative- The holidays don’t have to be about food. Suggest or create other ideas for friends and family to gather. When I was newly in recovery, my family would go to the Grand Canyon to Hike. The point of the season is share time and memories with one another. Those are some of my favorite memories.
6. Embrace Hygge! – Which is Danish for acknowledging a feeling or moment, whether alone or with friends, at home or out, ordinary or extraordinary as cozy, charming, or special. Hygge literally only requires consciousness, a certain slowness, and the ability to not just be present – but recognize and enjoy the present.