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 Comfort of Food continued...
"We get hungrier quicker, so we reach for more high-carbohydrate
'fillers,' and the vicious cycle is on," says McAllister.
Wolfe-Radbille believes there's also a cultural stigma influencing our
winter food choices.
"Technically, any food will boost your metabolism and help your body
temperature to rise, but culturally, we're not trained to think of salads or
fruits and vegetables as winter eating -- first, because there's less of them
around, but also because we associate winter with richer, heavier meals, going
back to when we were children," she says.
So, when your body sends the message, "Warm me up," Wolfe-Radbille
says, your brain hears, "Bring on the mac and cheese."
Of course, winter also means holiday parties, and wheelbarrows full of the
very foods we're craving.
"Not only does the winter season set us up to crave these higher-calorie
foods, but the holidays put them in front of us, usually in great
abundance," says McAllister.
The Dark Days of Dieting
While for some it's falling temperatures that sets appetites in motion, for
others, it's the decrease in sunlight.
"Up to 6% of the population suffers from SAD -- a type of depression
caused by a lack of exposure to light," says McAllister. SAD is Seasonal
Affective Disorder that occurs the same time each year as the days are shorter,
but goes away as the days get longer in spring and summer. Besides shorter days
and a decrease of light in the winter, other causes include problems with the
body's biological clock or in levels of the brain chemical serotonin.
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
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."