Studies have shown that your appetite does increase during winter, with many people gaining at least 1-2 pounds. Learn about why this might happen and how you can keep your weight under control in the colder months.
5 reasons why your appetite may increase in winter
- Primitive impulses: Some researchers say that the reason our appetites may increase in winter is because our brains are conditioned to stock up on supplies during more plentiful months in order to prepare for winter when food used to be scarce. Similar to animals who store fat before hibernating, humans may have a primitive impulse to eat more in order to have enough reserves during winter.
- Warmth: Eating helps warm up the body because you are adding energy to your system. Because cold weather lowers your body temperature, you may feel compelled to eat more high-calorie, high-carb foods in order to keep warm. The hitch is that if you give in to this impulse by eating foods high in sugar and fat, your blood sugar levels will spike and then plummet, leaving you colder and hungrier than before. This cycle increases the risk of weight gain.
- Comfort: Along with the physiologic causes of increased food cravings in the winter, a psychological component of this phenomenon exists as well. Most people have been conditioned since childhood to correlate winter with heavy, rich dishes or comfort foods. For example, winter holidays such as Christmas are often filled with feasting and indulgence. As a result, some people may find that their appetite increases during the winter to the desire for familiar comfort.
- Boredom: Another factor to consider is that when the weather is miserable outside, people tend to stay inside and watch TV instead of exercising or engaging in other vigorous physical activity. This can lead to snacking out of boredom or habit.
- Winter blues: Because of the shorter days and increased time spent indoors, many are exposed to very little sunlight during the winter. This can lead to decreased levels of both vitamin D and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that produces sensations of pleasure and well-being. Vitamin D and serotonin deficiencies can lead to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a type of depression common among people who live in parts of the world where winters are dark and very cold. People with SAD often seek carbs because they help the body use tryptophan, an amino acid that can be turned into serotonin to boost declining levels in the blood.
How to avoid weight gain in winter
If you are worried about gaining extra pounds during the winter, here are a few tips to help you prevent that from happening:
- Fill up on soups or other low-calorie foods that contain plenty of fiber-rich vegetables and nutrients to keep you feeling satiated.
- Find healthier ways to indulge in comfort foods by replacing sugar with agave or fruit.
- Snack on nuts and other nutritious foods to keep your metabolism going and reduce cravings for high-fat, high-sugar junk.
- Exercise regularly to improve your mood and burn some of those extra calories.
- Spend a few minutes in the sunlight to boost your vitamin D and serotonin levels.
- Resist the urge to reach for food when you are anxious, and find other ways to relieve stress.
- If you believe you could be suffering from seasonal affective disorder, seek professional help if needed.
Kräuchi K, Wirz-Justice A. The four seasons: food intake frequency in seasonal affective disorder in the course of a year. Psychiatry Res. 1988 Sep;25(3):323-38. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3186862/
Cronise RJ, Sinclair DA, Bremer AA. The "metabolic winter" hypothesis: a cause of the current epidemics of obesity and cardiometabolic disease. Metab Syndr Relat Disord. 2014;12(7):355-361. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4209489/
Dugdale AH, Curtis GC, Cripps PJ, Harris PA, Argo CM. Effects of season and body condition on appetite, body mass and body composition in ad libitum fed pony mares. Vet J. 2011 Dec;190(3):329-37. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21146430/
Langeveld M, Tan CY, Soeters MR, et al. Mild cold effects on hunger, food intake, satiety and skin temperature in humans. Endocr Connect. 2016;5(2):65-73. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5002965/
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