Why Eating Disorders Intensify in the Winter

Wednesday, Feb 09  •  

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Throughout the winter months, it is common to see a spike in eating disorder symptoms and/or relapse behavior. Winter can involve colder weather, stressful holiday preparations, overwhelming interactions, and other factors that can affect one’s mental health. Better understanding the possible causes of these winter changes can help you prepare for the season and maintain your recovery!

Seasonal Depression

The most common explanation for eating disorder symptoms intensifying in the winter is seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of depression where symptoms generally arise during the fall and continue through the winter months. Some might try to brush it off as the winter blues, but in reality, it is depression and should be taken seriously. Signs and symptoms can include: 

  • Feeling sad most of the time 
  • Losing interest in previously enjoyed activities and hobbies 
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Fatigue
  • Oversleeping
  • Changes in appetite and food cravings
  • Changes in weight
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling agitated
  • Feeling hopeless or guilty 

In a study, researchers found that 27% of eating disorder patients met the criteria for seasonal affective disorder. Someone who struggles with an eating disorder may find their symptoms worsening during the colder months when seasonal depression often begins. Even if you don’t meet the criteria for SAD, the lack of sun — and the benefits that typically come with it — can make it more challenging for you to maintain recovery.

Winter Weight Changes

Another possible explanation for eating disorder symptoms intensifying in the winter is that many people experience weight changes during this time of year. It’s not uncommon to gain a few pounds as we indulge in comfort foods and drinks, but for some people with eating disorders, this can trigger or worsen their disorder.

Maintaining Your Recovery

With the hormonal and non-hormonal challenges that accompany the winter months, maintaining recovery can be difficult. Here are some things you can do to stay on track this winter:

  • Light Therapy: The use of light therapy for those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder or low mood in the winter has been proven to be an effective treatment. The artificial lights give your body the same benefits as natural ones, such as improved sleep patterns and better mental clarity!
  • Maintain Your Routine: Without a routine, it’s hard not to feel thrown off your game. A regular schedule can help keep you on track and prevent any negative consequences from winter blues.

If you find it more challenging to maintain your eating disorder recovery in the winter, you’re not alone. To avoid negative consequences, surround yourself with a good support team or give us a call!

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