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Control Your Winter Appetite

It's not just your imagination -- winter really can whet your appetite. Here's how to keep it under control.
By
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic-Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

The weather outside is frightful -- but the food is so delightful! If that's the tune that runs through your head from November through March, you're not alone. As temperatures fall, experts say, our winter appetites can spin out of control.

"Studies indicate that we do tend to eat more during the winter months, with the average person gaining at least 1 to 2 pounds -- and those who are already overweight likely to gain a lot more," says Rallie McAllister, MD, author of Healthy Lunchbox: The Working Mom's Guide to Keeping You and Your Kids Trim.

And while a heartier appetite for a few months out of the year may not seem like such a big deal, McAllister says it can be when we end up gaining weight year in and year out.

"Many people who are around 50 years old are also around 30 to 35 pounds heavier than they were when they graduated high school -- and those pounds are roughly equal to 30 winters of a heartier appetite -- so it really does add up," says McAllister, a family practice medicine specialist from Lexington, Ky.

But what is it about frostier temperatures that drive us to eat more? If you're thinking it's because holiday goodies are more abundant in the wintertime, you're only partially right. Experts say there are a number of factors at work.

The Comfort of Food

It's cold. Days are shorter, and nights are longer. You're worn out from holiday preparations -- or maybe you have a case of the seasonal blues.

Whatever the reason, experts say, when winter hits, cravings for comfort foods increase. And unfortunately, few of us find comfort in whole wheat pita bread and carrot sticks.

"As soon as temperatures drop, our appetite goes up for high-calorie, high-carbohydrate foods -- stews, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese -- the dishes that make us feel warm and cozy," says Barrie Wolf-Radbille, MS, RD, a nutritionist with the New York University Program for Surgical Weight Loss.

While some suggest those winter cravings are a throwback to the days when folks needed extra layers of body fat to survive the winter, most expert say the answer lies in modern physiology.

"Simply put, when outdoor temperatures drop, your body temperature drops, and that's what sets up the longing for foods that will warm you quickly," says Kristin Herlocker MS, RD, a nutrition expert with Diabetes Centers of America in Houston.

In short, she says, feeling cold triggers a self-preservation mode that sends the body a message to heat up fast. And that message is often played out as a craving for carbohydrate-rich foods -- the sugars and starches that provide the instant "heat" boost your body is longing for.

Moreover, McAllister says, when we give in to those cravings for sugary, starchy foods, blood sugar spikes and then falls, setting up a cycle that keeps the appetite in motion.

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