Eating Right to Fight Off Winter Blues

 

Foods that can help you fight off winter blues. #healthy #bonebroth

Today, we’ll look at how eating right makes a huge difference in the battle against winter blues. Last time, we discussed light therapy. and I encourage you to read that post if you struggle with seasonal affective disorder like me.

No girl loves sweets more than me. Christmas is my favorite time for indulging in cookie after cookie, because I love to bake.

But when those winter blues hit me hard in January, I change my eating habits. Not necessarily to lose weight. I change my eating plan to fight off winter blues.

If you are prone to seasonal affective disorder like I am, you may have issues with serotonin uptake. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter produced by your body from certain foods you eat. It regulates mood and produces good feelings. When you don’t have enough serotonin, those sad, heavy, depressed feelings can overwhelm you.

A Serotonin-Sapped Story

One winter when I was in college, I tried the cabbage soup diet. Have you heard of it? You don’t eat anything but cabbage soup or other veggies to drop weight. Day 1 wasn’t too bad. I truly like veggies, and the soup is tasty at first. I trudged through Day 2, though I wasn’t as enthusiastic.

On Day 3, I sat in my car, eating raw carrots before classes began. Apparently, my brain was running on serotonin fumes due to the drastic change from my normal breakfast of peanut butter on whole wheat toast with a glass of skim milk.

An uncontrollable anger swarmed through my body like a cloud of biting locusts. It was like the worst case of PMS I had ever endured, raised to the 10th power. I tossed the carrots and headed to the vending machine, putting in my quarters for a chocolate chip granola bar. Within minutes, I was soothed, and I was officially finished with the stupid cabbage diet.

Practical ways to overcome winter blues. #winter #depression

The Science Behind Healthier Eating

Now I know that science can explain what happened to me that day. The peanuts and milk I normally ate are sources of tryptophan, which the body uses to produce serotonin. The carbs in whole wheat bread circulate insulin in the bloodstream, which leaves more tryptophan available for the body’s use. That kind of breakfast is perfect for a serotonin-starved girl like me. Carrots, not so much.

I also know why that chocolate chip granola bar soothed me. The carbs plus chocolate were the perfect fix for my problem. Chocolate boosts serotonin levels in your brain. One of my relatives was diagnosed with serotonin issues decades ago. Since this relative was a child at the time, the doctor was reluctant to prescribe medication. The doctor said my relative could eat a little chocolate when the blues hit and experience similar mood-boosting results to medication.

How #chocolate helps you beat #winter blues. Click To Tweet

Until I recently heard that story, I didn’t know why chocolate was ALWAYS available at my relative’s home when I was growing up. I now know why I feel different on days that I skip my daily piece of chocolate—I literally feel better on the days that I do. Chocolate is a quick fix for my family’s unique genetic issues…and I’m thankful for such an easy, delicious solution!

About 75 percent of your body’s serotonin can be found in your intestines, which means a healthy gut is essential for good serotonin uptake. Fermented foods like pickles and yogurt are great for gut balance—and I love both! My favorite source of healthy gut food, however, is bone broth.

Practical ways to fight off winter blues. #winter #depression

Benefits of Bone Broth

Almost every day in winter, I eat soup made from homemade chicken stock. I had no idea how healthy it is until I read this informative article. It helps your body in dozens of ways, primarily by restoring good health to your intestines.

Since we know that serotonin hangs out in the intestines, we need to create a great environment for it to fight off winter blues. Who doesn’t love soup in the winter? When you make it with bone broth, it’s a perfect, medication-free solution for battling seasonal affective disorder.

Here’s my favorite, easy recipe for Homemade Chicken Stock.

Place the carcass from a rotisserie chicken in a large stockpot.

Add to stockpot:

  • 2 yellow onions, quartered with skin on (this produces a lovely color)
  • 4 stalks celery, tops left on, cut into 3-inch pieces
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, no need to chop
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme, or 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 Tablespoon kosher salt

Cover all items with water. Bring to a boil for 2 minutes; reduce heat to low. Simmer 2-3 hours.

Place a fine, wire-mesh sieve over a few large glass or ceramic bowls that will fit in your refrigerator. You can line a colander with cheesecloth if you don’t have a wire sieve.

Ladle liquid and solids into the sieve, allowing the stock to drip through. Discard all solids.

Let the stock cool a bit in the bowls, about 30 minutes. Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Scrape the fat off the cold chicken stock and discard. Your beautiful stock is now ready to use. This recipe yields 20-24 cups of stock.

You can freeze the stock in 4-cup plastic containers; I use leftover yogurt containers. Make sure to leave about 0.75 inches of headspace between the top of the stock and the lid, because it will expand when freezing. It will last several months in your freezer, if you can keep it that long. I make a new batch every other week.

You can use your chicken stock in my favorite Quick Vegetable Soup recipe:

  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium zucchini, diced
  • 1 14-oz bag frozen mixed vegetables
  • 1 12-oz bag frozen baby lima beans
  • 2 14-oz cans petite diced tomatoes, no salt added
  • 8 cups homemade stock
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • ½ teaspoon seasoned salt (I love Penzey’s 4S)
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

If your stock is frozen, begin melting it in a saucepan.

In a large stockpot, saute onion and zucchini in a teaspoon of oil over medium-low heat. Once softened, add garlic and cook another 1-2 minutes. Add mixed vegetables, lima beans, and diced tomatoes. Season with Italian seasoning, seasoned salt, and pepper. Add liquid stock and bring to a boil for 2 minutes. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer 20 minutes, then enjoy this super-healthy soup for your gut AND your serotonin levels!

2 easy recipes to help you fight off #winter blues. #bonebroth Click To Tweet

Don’t forget to eat your soup with a grilled cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread. The dairy and complex carbs will provide tryptophan for serotonin production. Add turkey to your sandwich for even more tryptophan and deliciousness.

Recipes and encouragement to help you fight off winter blues. #healthy #bonebroth

Conquering Your Cravings

If you have the winter blues, you may be craving more carbs and sweets than normal as your body cries out for serotonin. It’s important not to overdo it, because you can get trapped in a dangerous cycle of overeating and self-condemnation. I’ve been there, and that’s why I’ve prepared a special resource for you in my Library.

This printable contains specific scriptures to help you battle food cravings and find strength in God. I have this page hanging next to my work area, so I am grounded when temptation strikes. Sign up here to receive 10 Scriptures to Help You Trade Food Cravings for God’s Peace, along with many other encouraging resources.

Friend, if you’re struggling with the winter blues, I hope this post has boosted your mood. I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below. Join me next Thursday for another post in the series for more ways to fight off winter blues. Here’s a prayer to encourage you today:

Lord in Heaven, I confess that I often make food choices that aren’t good for me. I know you want me to be healthy so I can serve you well. Help me make better choices that will strengthen my body and spirit this winter. Thank you for giving me such healthy options, and for working your will in my life and my body. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for you:

Do you struggle with healthy eating habits in the winter?

What healthy foods can you eat this week for a serotonin boost?

Which one of these recipes will you try?

If you liked this post, I would appreciate your shares on social media!

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  • I’m keeping food records right now and have been since before Christmas just to give myself some accountability and awareness of what’s going into my mouth each day. I keep track of food groups and it’s helping me to make sure I get protein and veggies in adequate amounts. Thanks for this additional boost of encouragement to persevere.

    • Sarah Geringer

      I need to get my food journal out again and maybe give myself stars for the tryptophan foods I eat! Already had chocolate this AM on the fifth grey day in a row. Whole wheat bread for lunch, and some other tryptophan-loaded foods. Blessings to you up in snowy New England!

  • Misty Hinckley Phillip

    Sarah,

    Our nutrition is so important! Thanks for sharing your ideas on staying healthy and fighting off the winter blues!

    Blessings, misty

    • Sarah Geringer

      Blessings to you too, Misty! I was glad to see your face in the webinar yesterday. I hope it blessed you like it blessed me!

  • Great suggestions and recipes. Thank you!

    • Sarah Geringer

      Hi Debbie, glad you stopped by today!

  • Great reminder, Sarah, of how the foods we eat impact us. Now I know why I keep hearing so much about bone broth. : )

    • Sarah Geringer

      The Dr. Axe article I linked here is so fascinating to me! I’ll be making a batch of soup today since I’m home bound in an ice/snow storm. Did you see any of the snow this year in FL?

      • They keep showing possible freezing temps in the forecasts. But we’re far enough south in the Tampa Bay area that snow is pretty unlikely but not impossible. Soup sounds delicious. Stay warm!

  • Fascinating, Sarah! You’ve really done your homework! I’m a big fan of chocolate in any way, shape, or form. And there’s nothing that soothes and comforts and nourishes like a pot of home brewed soup.

    Thanks for taking us down this road today. All those Christmas cookies took their toll around here …

    ;-}

    • Sarah Geringer

      Hi Linda, I still have Christmas cookies in tins. Time to put them in the freezer to eat a little at a time. Blessings to you!

  • Wow, it’s amazing the type of information you can learn (and share) when you’ve been personally affected. Thanks for sharing these tips, Sarah. Now you really have me thinking about how the foods we eat impact us at this time of year.

    • Sarah Geringer

      Hi Marva! I’ve been feeling cranky this week due to lack of sunlight, which I talked about in my last post. A loaf of nutty wheat bread from the store has really been soothing to me. Today I’m making a fresh batch of soup as my children are home from school due to ice and snow. Can’t wait until spring is here!

  • Liz

    What great practical information here, Sarah! I never knew about the connection between Serotonin and chocolate. Now I’m wishing I’d bought some this morning! Blessings!

    • Sarah Geringer

      Thanks Liz. I always have chocolate somewhere in the house. Haven’t had any yet today, but that is sure to change!

  • Susan

    Very excellent post, Sarah. My concern about the bone broth is using non-organic bones — the hormones that are fed to chickens and beef are horrifyingly awful for the body. I would highly recommend knowing the source of those bones.

    • Sarah Geringer

      I agree with you. If I could afford everything organic, I would! But with one teen and two tweens in our home, we spend over $1000 per month on our groceries, so I only splurge on organic food a little bit. Hoping the veggies’ minerals and vitamins in the soup would override the dangers from any hormones in the stock. Blessings to you, friend!

      • Susan

        I totally understand. We do the very best we can, don’t we. And, that’s why we pray for our food? Amen? Ask the Lord to “sanctify it holy!!!” Keep up the good work, Mom!

  • I am loving this series, Sarah! So incredibly helpful — even though I live in Florida. I have several friends who have moved up north and really struggle with this. I will be sharing. HUGS

    • Sarah Geringer

      Thanks for your kind words and for sharing it too, Lyli! Here’s a hug from MO to you in FL!

  • Pam Ecrement

    This was a great post chocked full of good stuff! As someone who spent 25 years as a clinical counselor, I saw many struggling with many neurotransmitter issues. In addition to counseling, my first recommendation was what they could do for themselves physically on those key things like sleep, exercise, and what they were eating. I appreciate the work of Dr. Daniel Amen because he doesn’t assume medication is the first or only recourse.

    • Sarah Geringer

      Yep, you’re mentioning things that will show up in my next two posts! Glad they are on track with professional advice, Pam!

  • I don’t struggle with poor eating in general but I will try the bone broth. I have an instant pot and when I’m in the mood I make a lot of soups. I think my problem is freezing and then remembering to use them. Thanks for sharing. Stopping by from #DreamTogether

    • Sarah Geringer

      I’m hearing so many good things about an Instant Pot, and I saw incredible recipes in a recent All Recipes magazine. I need to get one!

  • I remember hearing years ago–decades really–that chocolate actually helps with PMS symptoms. I don’t recall why exactly, but I always feel “less guilty” whenever I indulge in chocolate now, Sarah. And your insights and tips here give me even more reason to enjoy chocolate as well as to consider the other serotonin-producing foods I should be incorporating in my diet. Thanks for these helpful and practical ways of beating the winter blues, my friend!

    • Sarah Geringer

      On Saturday, I worked hard for 12+ hours and ate pretty healthfully. By 5:00 p.m. I felt cranky and sluggish. On my way home from the office, even though it was frigid, I stopped to buy some peanut M&M’s. The minute they hit my mouth, I truly felt better. Only 8 or 9 M&M’s were all it took, and the rest of the night I felt fine. Thank you, Lord, for the healing powers and deliciousness of chocolate!

  • It amazes me how different foods affect my moods. Great advice here, Sarah. I’m working on adding bone broth into my daily regimen. It’s good for us on so many levels. Thanks for the recipes!

    • Sarah Geringer

      You are welcome, Candace. My husband is planning to roast some beef soup bones this week. Beef bone broth is super delicious too, but it’s a bit more time consuming because you have to add the step of roasting first. I have also made broth from roasted veggies and it was fabulous. Hoping it helps you stay healthy in 2018!

  • Amy Benham

    Thank you so much this series!! I CRAVE chocolate like crazy and feel so much better after I eat some. I just thought I was addicted to it, which may still be the case :/, but it is good to know that it really does help!

    Hopping over from #Salt&Light

    Blessings,

    Amy @ The Quiet Homemaker

    • Sarah Geringer

      Hi Amy! I must have overlooked your comment last week, and I’m sorry about that. I just ate two small pieces of chocolate after my bone broth based lunch, and both of them are helping my mood today. Good to see you here!

  • I never realized that there was a connection between chocolate and seratonin! I’m all in ;). I tried the cabbage soup diet–I was cranky and weak the entire week I stayed on it. I have problems with low blood sugar, so it certainly wasn’t the right diet for me!

    • Sarah Geringer

      I know what you mean about being weak and crabby on it. I’d like to enjoy it for lunch, but not for all day long. Cabbage is a main source of Vitamin C, which is so good for us in the winter. But I really need my chocolate dose daily to feel and be pleasant. Blessings to you!