Bye to 2016 and the winter blues

Happy 2017!  I hope everyone had a healthy and happy new years celebration.  I was going to write a post about making new years resolutions, but this year I decided to not make any new years resolutions. I decided not to try to make any specific goals for the next year for two reasons: 1.  I think it’s easier to work on short-term goals, without using the calendar year as motivation 2.  Northeastern winters don’t exactly scream “LET’S GET MOTIVATED!” to me.  Instead, today I’m sharing some tips about improving your mood during these cold months.  I decided to share some things that have helped me stay happy and sane during winter because I’ve noticed that every year I start to feel less like my usual upbeat self as soon as November/December rolls around.  While I don’t personally suffer from full-blown seasonal affective disorder (SAD, so aptly abbreviated), it’s always a good idea to consult a mental health professional if you feel your mood going seriously sour during any time of the year.  If you feel like you just need an extra happiness boost during the winter, here are some things that have helped me.

My Winter Mood-Improving Habits

  1. Get outside!

Unless you live close to the equator, your skin gets less exposure to sunlight during the winter (in the northern hemisphere).  Sunlight is important because it’s a major source of vitamin D.  Vitamin D has effects on the hypothalamus which regulates sleep, hunger, and other factors that influence mood.

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These ducks have the right idea, although I didn’t take a dip into the frigid water, I did take this photo on a chilly winter walk

Another reason to get outside is just to enjoy the outdoors.  Although being outside during the winter requires some extra layers, being amongst nature has so many benefits, both for the mind and body.  Try going for a walk outside a few times a week (for the most benefits, aim for mid-day, especially when it’s sunny out).  If you’re feeling more adventurous, go ice-skating, skiing, or snow-shoeing if you live in a snowy climate.

2.  Eat (healthy) carbs!

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a toasted whole-grain bagel with a healthy fat, such as melted natural peanut butter makes for a deliciously warming winter breakfast

Complex carbs can health boost serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that influences mood.  I feel best when I stick to minimally processed whole grains and avoid white flour. Examples of complex carbs include sweet potatoes, brown rice, whole grains and 100% whole grain breads.  Paying attention to portion size is important.  It’s easy to over-do pasta, bread, and rice, especially because these foods can be so comforting.

3. Exercise

I love moving all year round!  Exercise always puts me in a good mood. If you can’t exercise outside, indoors is just as good.  I try to exercise daily for 30-60 minutes, or at least most days.  New to exercise?  Try to find something that you enjoy and that you’re willing to commit to.  Walking, running, yoga, weightlifting all count.

4. Sleep, but not too much

It’s so tempting to sleep more during the winter and go into “hibernation mode”, but I’ve found that (for me) this makes me feel lazy which then affects my mood.  Instead of staying in bed all day, try to get moving and accomplish one productive thing a day.  Oversleeping can be a symptom of depression, so if you find yourself preferring to stay in bed for an excessive amount of time and you also feel symptoms of hopelessness and apathy, it’s important to talk to someone.

5.  Participate in life

Sometimes during winter, I feel like hibernating and going into my shell, but I’ve noticed that this makes me feel down and withdrawn.  Find an engaging hobby that will keep your mind active.  Social support is also vitally important, so make some time for friends and family.

These are just some simple things that have helped me.  I hope you feel amazing today and every day of this winter season 🙂

Staycation Fun

This week I took a vacation from work.  Although I find my work fulfilling and rewarding, everyone needs a vacation and I’m no exception.  I thought about going somewhere during my time off, but sometimes I find traveling more stressful than it is relaxing so I decided to make this vacation a “stay-cation”.

This past week I’ve been going to the beach and spending a lot of time meditating, which is something that I need to consistently do in order to reap the benefits.

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Went to one of my favorite cafes and enjoyed a delicious smoothie and a good read

I also took a few day trips to my favorite towns on Long Island and ate at my favorite vegan restaurants (I might write a separate blog post on that!).  This past week I also explored some nature preserves, attended a powwow, and visited a farm that I used to work at many summers ago.

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This preserve (Norman J. Levy Preserve) was built on what used to be a garbage dump. The high point where I took the photo from used to be a giant pile of garbage and now is home to native species of grass, small trees, insects, animals and birds.

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A picture of the farm I used to work at! I actually worked with the animals but I would love to get my hands dirty working with some fresh produce!

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A photo of one of the highlights from the powwow.  Group dancing to drums and hymns of Native American tribes made this a magical experience.

While I was relaxing on the beach this week, I decided that I was going to stop drinking coffee for the remainder of my vacation (and hopefully keep this up when I go back to work).  I made this decision because I notice sometimes when I drink too much coffee (which can be as little as 1-2 cups per day), I feel really anxious in my stomach– like an annoying, uncertain gut feeling related to nothing in particular which lasts about an hour or two after I’ve overdone it with the coffee.  I’ve written about my history of insomnia and sleep disturbances and I know that having any caffeine affects my sleep cycle greatly. I’m hoping that I can keep my cravings for coffee at bay. Tonight my plans include going to a coffee house, so this should be interesting. I’ll give an update soon along with some more info on my favorite vegan restaurants. For more personal updates and (almost) daily food pictures, you can follow me on instagram @vitaminvalentine 🙂

-Jess

My (new) Favorite Vegan Restaurant + Some Updates

I feel like I start every post lately explaining how busy I am, but it’s true! School is definitely hard this semester. This post is going to be a personal one, because I haven’t been cooking anything too creative lately (ok, that’s a lie, I’ve been making some delicious kale salads but I keep forgetting to take pictures of my creations and a food post without a picture is just sad.)

If you read my last post, you learned that I “ended” my vegan diet because I craved fish and chicken, etc. Well, I’m back to my old vegan ways because I kept getting grossed out about making meat and found I was completely dependent on prepared foods (like already cooked meat at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, which ends up being really expensive). To me, being grossed out by cooking a particular food item is a sign that its just not going to work out. Now that I tried experimenting with a “flexitarian” diet, I feel I can return to my vegan ways and avoid some of the cravings that were sneaking up on me by paying closer attention to micronutrients to avoid certain deficiencies.

Although I’ve been busy, I did get a chance to take a mini-vacay in upstate NY where I ate at Garden Cafe on the Green, a cute vegan restaurant in Woodstock. I ate there twice. The first occasion I had a chickpea wrap with oven-roasted potato “fries) and the second time I had a blackbean-sweet potato burger. Both meals were delicious and I highly recommend the place if you happen to be in the Woodstock, NY-area.

a picture of the chickpea wrap at Garden Cafe.

a picture of the chickpea wrap at Garden Cafe.

 

In addition to eating, I also got to spend much time outdoors during my upstate getaway. I love exploring nature! This blogs tagline is “food for the mind, body, and soul” and I believe being in nature is one source of “food” for the all of the above! Fun fact: I actually used to be the education director of a nature preserve before I decided to go back to school for nutrition!

Had to stop and take a photo of this beauty!

Had to stop and take a photo of this beauty!

a birds nest I saw while hiking

a birds nest I saw while hiking

On a nutrition note, spending time outside, especially when it’s sunny, is a good way to boost your vitamin D intake, which often decreases during the winter months.

A short vacation wouldn’t be complete without going to a few souvenir shops, and that I did. Woodstock is a fun little town with a ton of cool stores that show it’s grooooovy history 🙂

a sculpture made of various knick-knacks

a sculpture made of various knick-knacks

Inside a thrift store.

Inside a thrift store.

I hopefully will have more time to post some of my recipes. After April I have finals for the spring semester…followed by two summer classes but making time for food (and creating healthy recipes) will always be something I love to share!

-Jess