Maintaining Energy When You Just Want to Hibernate

Happy and Fun African WomanIt is official. What I call ‘hibernation syndrome’ has officially set in. This is what I call the phenomenon that develops each time the cool winter air blows into town and all many of us wants to do is to curl up in (or with) something (or someone) cozy. Plans start to be cancelled more frequently, errands are postponed, movement becomes limited and exercise time is traded for couch time.

Like other mammals, humans’ bodies change during the cold weather months and our lifestyle and body’s needs change. It is important to listen to your body but it can be easy to slip into unhealthy patterns. Here are a few tips to maintain energy and a healthy lifestyle if hibernation syndrome strikes you:

  1. Move your bowels regularly. I know, not the sexiest of topics but a sedentary lifestyle may not make you feel sexy either… Moving around less, especially if you’re eating rich holiday foods or warming but heavy stews, can lead to a slower metabolism. Because your body is processing food more slowly, constipation can easily happen. Here are some ways to prevent this from happening or address it when it does occur:
    1. Integrate fiber-rich foods each day. Cooked, dark, leafy greens are great, flaxseeds that you grind yourself (a small coffee grinder does the job well) sprinkled on plain yogurt. Almond milk with chia, flax and pumpkin seeds can help clear things out as well.
    2. Keep your inner flora lively. Even if you are tired, your body needs good bacteria to work for you to digest your food. Good bacteria can be introduced through fermented foods such as sauerkraut or other raw, pickled vegetables. You can find them at the store but be sure to buy ones that do NOT contain vinegar, citric acid or sugar. Fermented foods are actually really easy to make yourself and a great way to preserve some of the autumn produce through the winter months. Sandor Katz has some great recipes on his blog and in his book, Wild Fermentation.
  1. Move your hips regularly. Just because you are not at the gym or bopping around outside, doesn’t mean that you can’t remain active.
    1. Buy or stream low-cost or free dance and exercise classes, like Gaiam’s Wake Up Workout, or Crunch gyms’ Crunch Live. Wii has fun dance and workout games as well.
    2. Stream gentle movement classes. If you’re feeling lower energy and you want to support your alignment, you might try Katy Bowman’s low-cost movement classes.
    3. At the very least, get out of your seat every 15 minutes. Stand up, roll your hips and neck around, change positions when you return to where you sit, or change where you sit. Move to the floor, a balance ball, a chair instead of the couch. A good way to ensure that you move frequently is to drink a lot of water or herbal tea.
  1. Reduce the quantity of food you eat (unless you are pregnant or breastfeeding, have an eating disorder, or already eat small amounts of foods in which case, skip this one.) The average American tends to eat more during the winter months according to Dr. Rallie McAllister but there are many reasons why we may not need to eat as much in the winter months.[1] As mentioned above, you may move less so you do not need as many calories.[2] In addition, the food you are eating is likely to be denser and heavier: a bowl full of lentil soup for example can be more than double the calories of a bowl of gazpacho.[3] Here are a few ways to adjust your eating according to the new season:
    1. Experiment with eating smaller portions. If you eat heavier, denser foods in the winter, such as stews, potato and root vegetables, eat smaller portions than you would in the warmer months. Take what you might normally take and then put a quarter of it back. After you’ve eaten this portion, wait 10 minutes and see if you are still hungry. If so, take a small amount more, i.e. a couple of tablespoons of the squash puree, half a potato, etc.
    2. Stay warm. Sometimes we might feel an unconscious instinct to eat a lot because it is a way to put on weight and keep our bodies insulated from the cold. There are other ways to stay insulated without gaining weight. This can be accomplished by eating cooked, warming foods and not cooling, raw foods, drinking hot beverages, maintaining good blood circulation by regularly moving your body, and having the right clothing.
  1. Have on-hand warm winter clothes that you are excited to wear. In addition to potentially helping to curb over-eating, good winter gear may just give you more incentive to go out, even when Jack Frost is nipping at your toes.
    1. Clothes that keep you warm: for this, we turn to the animals who are able to stay outside without needing a coat. My favorites are tightly woven wool and silk. These materials when kept close to our skin are amazing insulators. There are a variety of price points for winter gear and the warmest of the warm can get expensive quickly. Online stores often have deals, like Amazon for silk long underwear or eBay for brands like Ibex, which makes lightweight but SUPER warm wool clothes. This type of clothing is an investment but one that can save you money on having to buy multiple layers.
    2. Clothes that you make you feel HOT or fun. Find yourself a sexy sweater, maybe there’s a furry color involved, or a fun-colored hat or pair of gloves (Freezy Freaky anyone????) Having clothes you want to wear can make the difference between a night sitting on the couch with a large bowl of popcorn and a night accomplishing all of your errands or bopping around with friends.

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[1] Colette Bouchez. “Control Your Winter Appetite.” WebMD.

[2] See the USDA’s guidelines for estimated calories needed for a sedentary lifestyle as compared to an active lifestyle.

[3] One cup of lentil soup is approximately 136 calories according to CalorieCount. Two cups of gazpacho is approximately 59 calories according to the same source. Please note that I cite this calorie comparison only as a means of displaying the density of the foods we tend to eat during the cold months as compared to the warm months. I do not incorporate calorie counting into my health coaching philosophy.

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