For most of the US, the weather outside is frightful. But the food inside …delightful! If that’s the tune that’s been running through your mind these days, you’re not alone. As temperatures plummet experts say our appetite increases – and so can our weight.
Storing for the Winter
Studies indicate we tend to eat more during the winter months, with the average person gaining at least 1 to 2 pounds. While a heartier appetite for a few months out of the year may not seem like a big deal, it can be, when we end up gaining weight year in and year out.
It’s cold. Days are shorter, and nights longer. So what is it about falling temperatures that urges us to eat more? When outdoor temperatures drop, your body temperature drops, and feeling cold triggers a self-preservation mode that sends the body a message to heat up fast! Our appetite goes up for high-calorie, high-carbohydrate foods — stews, soups, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese — the dishes that make us feel warm and cozy.
Any food will boost your metabolism and help your body temperature rise, but we don’t think of salads or fruits and vegetables as winter eating because we associate winter with richer, heavier meals.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
If your cold-weather cravings come in the form of pasta, cookies, pastries, and other carbs, you might be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. It’s normal to want to cope with long, cold nights by filling up on high-calorie, high-fat foods.
People who are affected with SAD have lower blood levels of serotonin. carbohydrate-rich foods give us a serotonin rush, so food cravings are a way of self-medicating – as the days get shorter the need for these ‘carbo-rich comfort foods’ increases.
To keep your diet in check while still warding off seasonal depression, fill up with lean protein rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon. Omega-3s have been shown to have mood-boosting power while protein will help keep you full and satisfied. Learn to adjust your cravings. If you yearn for a big bowl of pasta and cheese, switch out regular enriched pasta for whole grain and add lean protein to the mix, and a few vegetables for vitamins and fiber.
If it’s dessert you want, try a steaming mug of hot dark chocolate, which has been shown to reduce risk of heart disease, raise levels of healthy cholesterol, and be a mood booster. Physically warm things, such as a hot shower or a warm drink, can help people feel happier and less lonely.
Winter provides lots of excuses for moving less. Not only do shorter days and colder weather cut our outdoor time by several hours – the temperatures, and related factors like snow and ice, make our chosen fitness activities like walking or running difficult. If we’re not exercising, our appetite increases, and ultimately that means we’re eating more and moving less — and that can produce weight gain.
With a little bit of planning, you can keep your life and your appetite in perfect harmony all year. Some ways to gain winter comfort without the extra pounds are:
1. Eat Healthy Snacks
Eat a high-protein, high-fiber snack between meals — try peanut butter on a whole wheat cracker, or low-fat cheese on a slice of wheat bread. Healthy snacking will fuel your body’s heat mechanism, helping keep you warmer. The warmer we remain in cold weather, the less we crave carbs.
2. Be Active
If you can’t go outside to workout – or to the gym – put more activity into your daily living. Take the stairs, march in place while you’re sorting the laundry or doing the dishes, or clean out the closet/basement/garage. Physical activity burns calories, and affects brain chemicals linked to appetite, so it can help control how much you eat. The more you move the warmer you will feel and the less hungry you will be.
3. Create Low-Calorie Comfort Foods
If you know that nothing will take the chill off your bones like comfort food, look for ways to cut the calories and still feel warm. Enjoy a pizza loaded with veggies on a whole wheat crust, a bowl of vegetable soup, or cocoa with non-fat milk — be creative in finding ways to make feel-good food less fattening.
4. Get a Daily Dose of Light
If you think your food cravings may be related to shorter days, spend more time outdoors in sunlight every day.
5. Keep a Lid on Goodies
Keep rich treats out of direct eye view.
6. Give Out a Lot of Hugs
If it’s comfort you’re seeking, hugging is a great way to fill you up without filling you out. Instead of turning to comfort foods, hug your kids, your spouse, your pet — or visit a senior center, where hugging is at a premium! You’ll feel warm and fuzzy all over- and you’ll eat a lot less!
Think Long Term
Including holidays, Super Bowl Sunday, and Valentine’s Day, winter is packed with opportunities to overload on traditional, fatty foods. This coupled with a decrease in physical activity, it’s only natural that we gain a pound or two during winter and (hopefully) lose it come spring.
Remember – Splurge on the foods you really love with moderation, and stick to a balanced diet of whole grains, lean protein, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
- American Heart Association, heart.org
- Mayo Clinic, mayoclinic.org
- WebMD, webmd.com