Beating the Winter Blues

By Jason Fung, MD

Some people love the snow and cold weather the winter season brings. They embrace outdoor activities like skiing, skating, and snowshoeing. The seasons switch without them skipping a beat!

I’m truly envious of these individuals but winter just isn’t for me. It’s a little exciting at first because it means the holiday season is approaching. The first snowfall gets me in the spirit to start decorating and preparing to host family and friends throughout December. But then the holidays end and we get back into our regular routine in January. It’s cold and there’s usually a lot less sunlight.  Unpredictable snowfall can screw up our commutes and cause unwanted stress. Plus, the days start to feel really long come February.

Most people would say summer vacation or the December holidays are the most challenging when trying to fast regularly. But for people who live in seasonal climates, it tends to be February and March when people struggle the most. 

Why do people struggle during this time?

  • If you’re not a fan of winter activities, or worried about falling outdoors, you can feel as if you’re trapped in your home
  • Less social activity in the winter can leave us feeling isolated from our friends and loved ones
  • The lack of sunshine and connection with nature can leave us feeling depressed

Throughout the rest of the year it’s much easier to occupy our time. We can go for walks or tend to our garden. It’s easier to meet up with friends because road conditions aren’t bad and you don’t have to worry about falling. It’s hard to become bored, so it’s easy to fill up your time and avoid snacking.

Snacking and grazing is how many of the people I work with try to fill in the void in their social lives or cope with boredom during February and March. Today’s blog is all about the top strategies to help you get through these tough months.

1. Eliminate snack foods from your house

Even though I’m very proud of how I eat over the holidays, I’m eating more often. There’s definitely a lot more snacking and many more meals than usual. Regardless of how good your diet is, the more often you eat the more you want to eat.  

Every January I clear my home of the nuts and dark chocolates leftover from the holiday season. I know if I don’t, I’ll end up snacking on them and I’ll delay getting back on track and sticking to my eating windows and fasting.  

This was a big learning curve. I used to think it was a matter of willpower and I could be strong enough to avoid the macadamia nuts in the cupboard. Eventually a stressful situation would rise, and I’d eat them and kick myself for my lack of willpower. I thought something was wrong with me, when in reality I’m just human. We’re designed to eat good food if it’s around.  

Once I came to this realization I sat down with my husband and told him how much I struggle after the holidays having these foods in the house, and I asked him if he would be okay with me giving away these foods and not repurchasing them for the month of January. I also ask him what foods he’d like me to avoid bringing into our home to help him get back on track after the holidays. We come up with a list of ‘January free food items’ and agree to stick to it to help each other succeed!  

2. Write a grocery list and stick with it

It sounds cliche, but it’s true – preparation is the key to success! Always make time to write out a meal plan for the week ahead and create a grocery list based on what you’ve prepared. When you go to the store stick to that list! Do not deviate!  

Many people struggle with temptation at the supermarket and it often derails the plan they’ve set out for themselves. I know, because I’m one of these people. While I love going to the grocery store or farmer’s market every now and then, I’ve found online grocery shopping to be very helpful. It’s especially wonderful when things are hectic. The time it takes to get to the store, shop, purchase, drive home and put away food can take a large part of your day a couple of times a week. Some of us just don’t have that time. With online grocery shopping you can enjoy a cup of tea while you shop in peace without the hassle. 

3. Create a winter booklist

We often try to kill time by surfing the internet or watching television in the winter, but one of the consequences of doing so is being bombarded with images of food. And usually it’s highly processed and refined foods. These ads are designed to make us want to eat! It’s hard to avoid going to the fridge when you’re feeling down and grabbing something to eat after seeing dozens of them.

You don’t see food ads in books. This leaves you in control of your appetite and not brainwashed by the food industry. Every year I create a winter book list and purchase or check out all of the books on that list. I try to read one book every week, which is a feasible goal for my lifestyle. By avoiding spending my free time watching TV or on the computer, reading has made a huge difference in my ability to avoid snacking during the winter months.

4. Purchase a new board game or puzzle

If you’re looking for ways to connect with your loved ones in the evening that don’t involve sitting in front of the TV and snacking, see if they’d be interested in playing a game or putting together a puzzle. We know boredom leads to snacking. Activities like games and puzzles are a great way to connect with the people you love and stay busy. 

They’re also a good idea if you’re fasting through dinner. If your partner is fasting with you, then you can connect like you would over dinner but while you play a game instead. My husband and I do this while we fast. It’s also a great way to connect with family if you’re fasting through dinner and struggle to sit at the table with them. Ask them if they’d be up for putting together a puzzle after their meal. This way you still get time to connect with them.

5. Sign up for a class

Use the winter as an opportunity to sign up for the pottery or pilates class you’ve always wanted to try out. Every winter I write down a bucket list of activities I’d like to explore, then I do research to see what’s available in my area. This winter I decided to sign up for tai chi. I selected this class because there is a centre close to my house, so I don’t have to worry about snowstorms preventing me from going. Also, there’s no equipment needed, nor do I have to dress in any special way. I just show up in my regular clothes and socks and we’re ready to go!

Whatever activity you decide to do, it’s important it doesn’t take a lot of energy to get to or prepare for. It should also leave you feeling restored, rather than depleted after. And it should provide you with something to practice at home during times of boredom. I often practice the new tai chi moves I learned at the end of the work day to relax my nervous system so I can fully enjoy my evening.  

-Megan Ramos, The Fasting Method Co-Founder



By The Fasting Method

For many health reasons, losing weight is important. It can improve your blood sugars, blood pressure and metabolic health, lowering your risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer. But it’s not easy. That’s where we can help.

Jason Fung, MD

By Jason Fung, MD

Jason Fung, M.D., is a Toronto-based nephrologist (kidney specialist) and a world leading expert in intermittent fasting and low-carb diets.

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