Eating the SADness Away

As the heated energy from the summer begins to fade and the cold crisp days return, I start a slow process of hibernation. No energy for midnight gardening, or harvesting, or processing whatever can be gathered from the land.  

My body literally slows down and melancholy sets in. Dragging myself out of bed with the stars to work in a stuffy, stale office under blinding fluorescent lights goes against my body’s natural rhythms. And so it goes for days on end, until the sunlight begins to return…

I’m convinced if more people in the North had access to, and treated food as our medicine, we would be not just physically healthier, but mentally and emotionally healthier most especially during the winter months.

While the jury is still out on whether dimming sunlight hours can be a cause for major depression (a 10-year U.S. study, published this summer in Clinical Psychological Science, says it isn’t), the Canadian Mental Health Association says Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, affects more than 15 percent of Canadians, and two to three percent severely.

Diet can make a difference in coping with the long, cold nights of a Yellowknife winter.


We are what we eat – basically processed carbohydrates and sugars are slowly killing our bodies and driving our brains mad. According to many researchers, they fuel the side of our brain that is short tempered, hyperactive and impulsive; they contribute to brain fog, poor concentration and short-term memory loss.

Avoid the temptation, especially in winter, to give in to these cravings as much as you can. Eat local fish and get your omega fatty acids. They make you happy and help with cracked and brittle hair and skin. I believe in bio-regional eating: we are meant to eat the food that naturally grows or lives around us.  

Nature talks and is a powerful force of health and healing. Take chaga for instance – a parasitic fungus that grows on birch and other trees – that’s an immune-boosting anti-oxidant. In China, NWT chaga is getting locked away in vaults! Get your plant power. Find as many ways as you can to consume dark leafy green vegetables, cruciferous vegetables and anything high in phytonutrients.

We can consume the sun’s energy through the plants that it grows. These, along with nuts and seeds, are super foods, brain foods, to power up on. And if you’re not eating the right foods, taking supplements is an option. Vitamin D3 offsets the lack of sunlight and also combats depression. Fasting, or even just allowing your body to get hungry (short fasts), are super cleansing and detoxifying. And drink lots of water, give thanks to the water that you drink each time, and let it cleanse and heal your body.

I’m convinced if more people in the North had access to, and treated food as our medicine, we would be not just physically healthier, but mentally and emotionally healthier most especially during the winter months.

The problem is people don’t choose to eat in this way because the addiction to processed food and sugar is, well, an addiction – and maybe we should be more cognizant and active about this.

The last visit I had to the hospital after giving birth was disheartening. Perhaps a nutritionist approves the food, but unfortunately I had to choke it down. I felt so sad for people who are actually sick and have to consume that food to regain health and well-being. If we can start nowhere else, can we find a solution to provide locally grown and harvested vegetables, meats, fish and teas for those who are sick?

Our rates of diabetes, heart disease and obesity in the North are high. Why are we not more comprehensively looking at healthy food education, production and harvesting as medicine? I’m a big proponent of growing food and know without a doubt that this is as much a spiritually and emotionally fulfilling practice as it is physical nourishment.

Incorporating gardening, hunting, fishing, harvesting, gathering and preserving food into our restorative systems, our rehabilitation programs, our mental health and addictions programs and our education systems, is the holistic approach to surviving a northern winter. The Dene and Inuit have been practicing this for eons. Let’s get back to it.

Amy Lizotte was raised on a farm and has an interdisciplinary masters degree in environment, leadership and peacebuilding. Her graduate research project on local-food growing stimulated community conversations that led to the Yellowknife Farmers Market.



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