Control Your Winter Appetite
It's not just your imagination -- winter really can whet your appetite. Here's how to keep it under control.
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
"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
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,
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.