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Feeling Any Effects of Our Long, Cold Winter?

North Dakota is one of the northern states with a population strongly affected by seasonal affective disorder (SAD), especially during winter months. According to the Alternative Medicine Review, SAD is more prevalent in northern climates due to shorter days and less exposure to sunlight. SAD results in symptoms such as depression, fatigue, increased cravings for carbohydrates and weight gain.

During the fall and winter months, an increased number of people report feeling sluggish and unmotivated, and notice they are gaining weight. Reports of these symptoms significantly decrease in the spring and summer months, which is why seasonal affective disorder came to light.

According to epidemiological studies, 4% to 10% of the population is affected by SAD, with higher incidence among women than men. SAD typically is diagnosed by a structured interview called the seasonal pattern questionnaire (SPAQ).

Be sure to inform your health-care provider of any SAD symptoms you have so the proper medical treatment can begin. These three tips recommended by the health experts at Rush University’s Nutrition and Wellness Center should set you up for feeling good all year long:

  1. Stay active. Lack of motivation makes being active difficult. Finding a hobby indoors that keeps you active during these months can help decrease the chances of weight gain while increasing your mood and sociability. Examples include group fitness classes, intramural sports or volunteering in your local community.


  1. Eat a variety of produce. In the colder months, finding fresh produce can be hard, leaving you with expensive, bland options. Frozen fruits and vegetables contain the same amount of beneficial nutrients as fresh fruits and vegetables because they are frozen at peak ripeness. Purchasing these frozen options creates the opportunity for a colorful plate instead of a plate full of bland carbohydrates that could lead to weight gain.
  2. Set SMART goals. Smart goals are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. Setting goals can help increase motivation and manage the symptoms of SAD. A good example of a SMART goal for fall/winter could be: For the next month, I will attend a group fitness class twice a week. Following a SMART goal such as the example would be a great way to stay motivated, avoid being sluggish and help maintain a normal weight.


By Sierra Jones, Community Nutrition Intern, NDSU Extension



Avoiding Winter Weight Gain. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Díaz-Zavala, R.G., Castro-Cantú, M.F., Valencia, M.E., Álvarez-Hernández, G., Haby, M.M., and Esparza-Romero, J. (2017). Effect of the Holiday Season on Weight Gain: A Narrative Review. Journal of obesity2017, 2085136. doi:10.1155/2017/2085136


Miller, A.L. (2005). Epidemiology, Etiology, and Natural Treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Alternative Medicine Review, 10(1), 5–13. Retrieved from

Sponsored in part by the Sanford Health Foundation.

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