The Dark Days of Dieting continued...
But it's not just light that those with SAD crave. McAllister says it's also carbohydrates -- and lots of them. The reason?
"People who are affected with SAD have lower blood levels of serotonin," she says. "Not surprisingly, those carbohydrate-rich foods give us a serotonin rush, so for many people, winter food cravings are a way of self-medicating."
But even if you don't have full-blown SAD, Wolfe-Radbille says, your eating habits can be affected by shorter days and longer nights.
"When it gets dark out early, people stay in more, so they feel more isolated and usually more hungry," Wolfe-Radbille says. "Seasons affect moods and moods affect our eating patterns, so when it's dark and gloomy, people just tend to eat more."
At the same time, winter can cut into physical activity. Not only do shorter days and colder weather reduce our outdoor time, but in many locations, snow and ice make our normal fitness activities impossible.
Since exercise helps increase serotonin levels, McAllister says the lack of activity is a double whammy: "If we're not exercising, our appetite increases, and ultimately that means we're eating more and moving less -- and that's a disaster plan for weight gain."
6 Ways to Beat the Seasonal System
Despite all these appetite-boosting factors, experts say you can take control. With a little bit of planning, you can keep your life and your appetite in perfect harmony all year long.
Here are 6 suggestions.
1. Have a Healthy Snack.
Eat a high-protein, high-fiber snack between meals -- like some 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, says Herlocker, the less we crave carbs.
2. Make a Winter Activity Plan.
Even if it's already mid-winter, Wolfe-Radbill says take a pen to paper and list all the things you did in spring and summer, then write a corresponding list of winter activities you could do. Not only does exercise burn calories, it also affects brain chemicals linked to appetite, so it can help control how much you eat, McAllister says.