Role of Diet & Exercise

Nutrition – Sleep Routines

For SAD sufferers, the nutrition and sleep routines vary a great deal between summer and winter. In winter, those afflicted have a tendency to eat too much, especially carbohydrates and starchy foods, and gain weight. Although they may lose weight in summer, these people have a tendency to accumulate additional excess pounds each year. As years go by, it can result in obesity. SAD sufferers also need to sleep more than usual : even after a 10 to 12 hour night of sleep, they sometimes still feel tired and feel like they are dragging themselves along. The resulting inactivity also causes weight gain.

Diet – Beneficial Effects

Dieting and exercising must be considered as important factors for SAD sufferers, not only because they can have a positive effect on their mood, but also because they have beneficial effects on SAD itself. Research has shown that gaining or losing weight in a cyclic way can be particularly bad for an individual’s health. In spite of all its benefits, light therapy may disappoint those who hope to automatically lose weight once they feel better. For this reason, dieting and exercising must be part of a program for SAD sufferers.

Although light therapy diminishes the appetite and the weight gain, often it is only partially effective, and sometimes, exercising is not enough. The best solution is to watch what you eat. For more detailed information on how best to use light therapy Click Here.

In his book “Winter Blues”, Dr Norman Rosenthal mentions that the following three dietary approaches offer the best perspectives for SAD sufferers:

  • High-carbohydrate, reduced-calorie diets
  • The Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet
  • The Paleolithic Diet: Balancing carbohydrates with protein

A dietician may be of great help to personalize a diet. It is also possible to combine different elements of these approaches in order to create a dietary program that works for a particular individual.

Exercise – Motivating Activities

There is more and more evidence that regular aerobic exercise benefits depressed people in general. For those who suffer from SAD, if these activities imply more lighting, either outdoors or in front of a lamp, the antidepressant effect may be even greater. If people chose an activity only on the basis of its aerobic properties or its therapeutic value, there is little chance that they will stick to it for a long time. It is important to choose a motivating activity, which brings pleasure and satisfaction. To persevere and motivate oneself further it is useful to find someone who can share in this activity with you.

Biology – Medical Model

There is a medical model to explain how the seasonal changes can cause SAD. According to this “model”, the changes of the cerebral functions are considered in the same way as any other organs deficiencies -the pancreas in diabetes for example. The diabetic’s pancreas produces too little insulin. The SAD sufferer’s pineal gland produces too much melatonin. Additionally not enough serotonin is produced. The diabetic is helped with insulin; the person with SAD is helped through light therapy. An excellent account of the way in which melatonin and serotonin act can be found in a paper by the UK National Institute for Medical Research entitled “Seasonal Depression and Light Therapy”.