I kept turning the air down (up?) in many attempts to cool off during our long road trip this weekend. I was on the “sunny side” of the car, but also, I’m carrying a high blood volume and another human right now. So, even when it’s less than forty degrees outside of this car, I’m running warm most of the time. (Wearing compression socks may also be a factor in this specific anecdote.) But I remember a time when that was never the case.
Going to college in central Pennsylvania and losing weight rapidly (as the result of disordered eating) was a one-two-punch I didn’t realize I had been hit with. I didn’t—and still often don’t—have the appropriate wardrobe choices to get me through winter. I grew up skiing in Colorado, I thought, I know what winter feels like! JOKES ON ME—Colorado winters are glorious, sunny delights. The high desert of northern New Mexico can cool off, SURE, but those winters are nothing like the bone-chilling December (through March, or April) nights in State College, Pennsylvania.
In high school I wore a t-shirt under my winter coat, which worked out just fine as I walked between classes and out to my car. In college, I wore a tank top, long-sleeve shirt, sweatshirt, winter coat, scarf, and knitted cap (I call it a “beanie”) as I walked between classes, buildings, and bus stops. Still, I was chilled. In the middle of October, I was that Freshman who took the bus out to the mall because I needed to buy a big, warm, winter coat. I had left all of my “winter gear” at home, assuming I’d survive until my parents visited at the end of the month, with a suitcase of my things. WRONG. I was wrong.
I borrowed my friend Emily’s clothes regularly (a Pittsburgh native knows winter). I wore multiple pairs of socks (still TBD if that actually helps or makes things worse). I rarely took off a layer while I sat in the lecture halls, because my body rarely felt warmed up. I learned how to add more and more layers to my outfits, because you won’t survive in Happy Valley without that strategy. That will always be true.
What I didn’t realize, at the time, was that not everyone thought it was AS COLD as I did. Not everyone needed to keep their jackets on in a heated building. Some people weren’t hyper-focused on the temperature, and how many layers they would need to get through the day. And not everyone tried to wear sneakers around in the snow—BOOTS, those have a purpose. (See above: seasonally-appropriate attire.)
Sometime between my freshman and sophomore year, I did a little reading on eating disorders. I learned that circulation and core body temperature are both affected by low energy availability. The body prioritizes keeping the core warm, to protect central organs and systems. (The body is so effing smart, BTW.) And generally, with restrictive eating and/or over-exercising patterns, body fat percentage drops. Our body fat plays a lot of roles—generating heat is one of them.
Of course there are plenty of times when feeling cold and layering up is normal (see above: brisk DC morning run)—mid-winter snow days, on the run, walking between appointments or metro stops, taking (the pup for) a walk, skiing, etc. But constantly feeling cold, and constantly wondering why everyone else seems to warm up so quickly, is cause for concern.
As we enter the winter season, it’s easy to think you’re cold because it’s cold outside.
And that’s true, of course, to some extent! But if you’re constantly cold—if you can’t warm up even once you’re inside, always find yourself cupping a mug of warm tea or coffee, always need a few extra layers to take the focus off of how COLD you constantly feel, please take note.
Know that while it’s normal to feel cold when it’s snowing and below thirty degrees outside, it’s not normal to STAY cold for hours. Or to keep jackets on inside while everyone else seems comfortable. Or to always feel cold in your hands and feet, despite being in a temperature-controlled environment. It’s not normal for body fat to be so low that it’s hard to generate heat, or maintain normal hormone balance (i.e. reproductive health). I recognize it’s also not normal to want the AC on in November, but hey, tiny womb-growing humans have a lot of demands!
If you’re constantly cold, and any of this sounds familiar, I’m glad you’re here.
Maybe the first step is reaching out to a dietitian to talk, to seek help. Maybe it’s talking to a trusted confidant (friend, parent, etc.), first. Maybe it’s both. But you don’t have be chilled to the bone every day. You don’t have to own eight winter coats that can layer to keep your core warm and your body (and mind) at ease (for now). You may need to eat more, exercise less, and listen to what your body is saying in this moment. Acknowledge what it needs. Slow down, and warm up.