Why does your appetite increase when the days get shorter and colder? Is there any scientific basis to it or is it all in your head? Here are some answers and some tips for weight management worth your while.
It’s starting to get a little chilly in the early morning or late evening, and with this chilliness often comes increased appetite.
Studies show that even independent of food-laden winter holidays, we tend to eat more during the winter months, with the average person gaining at least one to two pounds – and those who are already overweight likely to gain a lot more. Why does this happen? Why do we get hungry when temperatures and daytime hours drop? What can we do in order to keep the extra weight off this year?
1. I’m cold and suddenly I’m hungry.
There’s no other way to say it: being cold makes you hungry. Why? This is because carbohydrates (or ‘carbs’) play an important role in warming up our bodies. When we start getting cold, we search out more carbs to help our body heat itself. The problem is when we eat a large amount of carbohydrates, more than what our bodies actually need, and the result being weight gain.
Another problem is when we search out the simple (sweet) carbs to give a fast and available supply of energy. This is also a place where we might over eat more than what our body needs.
So what do we do?
First of all, make sure you’re eating complex carbohydrates – preferably fiber-rich – that absorb slowly and create a sense of fullness. Try and organize your daily meals in a way that inserts carbs in every meal to ensure you won’t charge carbs uncontrollably throughout the day. Recommendation: take the candy out of the house to avoid temptations.
2. Getting dark early? “I’m down and need a fix.”
Even though we might not think there is any relation between the daylight hours and our appetite, apparently our body thinks differently. The shortening of daytime causes imbalances in key brain hormones melatonin and serotonin in some people, which causes fatigue and often depressed mood. These changes in how we feel can make us seek out more food (especially sweets) during lunch and dinner times. Not surprisingly, those carbohydrate-rich foods give us a serotonin rush, so for many people winter food cravings are a way of self-medicating – as the days get shorter the need for these “carb-rich comfort foods” increases. It is best to eat carbohydrate-rich foods in the morning to best balance out brain hormones and help moderate your appetite throughout the rest of the day.
So what do we do?
First of all, be aware of unprovoked mood changes, which may be due to the change in season which we can’t control. Find an alternative method to lift your mood – a movie, a hobby, even exercise (linked to a boost in endorphins). If all else fails, comfort yourself with “food” in a way that won’t make you sad later – a steaming mug of hot tea may do the trick to keep you warm, or at least make sure the carbs you eat are complex and rich in fiber, to keep you satiated longer and enable longer serotonin discharge by the brain. Second, try to be in bed at a moderate hour – 10 pm is generally recommended – as not only is sleep important for weight loss, but timing of sleep is important for serotonin and melatonin metabolism. Further, being well-rested will help over-eating (especially of carbs) out of simple fatigue. If all else fails, remember that your mood will be that much worse if you add weight gain to the mix!
3. Staying at home – what’s there to eat?
Where during the summer there is a lot more daytime to take advantage of for activities, winter is quite different. Most days turn dark when it’s only 5 pm, and it feels like the day is over – so instead of going out after work, we find ourselves at home for more hours during lunch and dinner times. And why is that a problem? Because anyone who struggles with food knows that maintaining a diet when surrounded by food is a lot harder.
So what do we do?
Just making a decision to not eat more just because you spend more time at home is the name of the game, but may be easier said than done for many people. Try establishing eating rules at home according to specific mealtime hours, and not “when you feel like it”. Put an end to the repetitive walks to the kitchen, and try avoiding tempting foods in the closets and refrigerator. Turn to non-food hobbies that capture your attention and bring you just as much happiness as eating – if you don’t have any yet, explore your options! If one of these becomes exercise – even just walking in place in front of the TV – even better.
4. I’m cold but I don’t feel like working out
When the weather turns cold, it can be much harder to start working out – harder to take off your clothes and put on your sportswear, harder to leave the house for a studio or the gym, and certainly harder to go outside. This presents particular challenges for those who are used to going out for a jog or a swim. Indeed, it seems like there are so many reasons to not work out during the winter.
So what do we do?
You already know that starting out is always difficult, and once a few minutes have passed – when the adrenaline is pumping through your veins – you’ll enjoy every minute of it. After a few days of doing it, it will be come routine and almost second-nature. So keep that feeling in mind the next time you’re feeling too lazy to get off the couch and start your workout or get to your nearest workout place. Make sure you’re wearing warm sportswear if you’re exercising outside. Try to maintain a regular schedule with regular days to work out if you see you’re always delaying it. And in general, it’s always advised to set up workouts friends or workout buddies on a regular basis. This way, your commitment to exercising would be much stronger and less vulnerable to “I don’t feel like it” whims. Finally, a little motivational secret: getting outside and being cold forces your metabolism to speed up to generate heat, and you will burn more energy.
5. I feel chilly and am not thirsty
While during summer we’re constantly aware of how important it is to keep hydrated, we’re not as concerned during winter. The problem is that we get dehydrated during winter as well, especially if sitting in a heated room. Due to the fact that many people don’t distinguish between thirst and hunger, the lack of liquids make you eat even more. Additionally, recent research has shown that drinking cool water in the morning can raise the metabolic rate and help burn more energy.
So what do we do?
Apply a water-drinking regimen during the winter just as you would in the summer. Make sure you walk around with a water bottle. If water drinking is not your strong suit, try adding a squeeze of natural citrus juice to lightly flavor it without adding too much sugar. Between workouts, try sipping on green or herbal teas. Remember, drinking a lot of fluid is healthy for you, and is highly important to your diet in helping you eat less.
Prevention of winter weight gain can be done – and it’s worth a try!