Is your appetite higher in winter? Are you anxious about gaining a few pounds? Don’t panic – you’re not alone. Most of us experience an increase in appetite during the winter months.
When outdoor temperatures drop, your body temperature also drops, and feeling cold triggers a self-preservation mode that sends the body a message to heat up fast. Our appetite then goes up for high-calorie, high-carbohydrate foods to make us feel warmer.
The cold weather also increases our urge to stay at home, move less and eat richer meals. So, it’s only natural that we might put on a little extra weight over the winter months. Studies indicate we tend to eat more during the winter, with the average person gaining at least one to two pounds.
If your cold-weather cravings come in the form of pasta, biscuits, pastries and other carbohydrates, you might be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This is a form of depression that affects some people during the change of seasons. People affected with SAD have lower levels of serotonin in the brain, and to feel better they resort to carbohydrates as comfort food that will give them a serotonin rush.
Whatever the reasons, maintaining healthy eating and lifestyle habits over the winter is important not only for weight management, but also for general health as well.
Here are some tips to curb your appetite and keep your weight under control this winter:
Wear warm clothes. Sleep with a thick quilt at night. Try a steaming mug of hot dark chocolate, which has been shown to be a mood booster. The body will not be cold anymore and you will naturally eat less.
Practise mindful eating:
Dedicate a special time for eating away from your workstation, your TV or your mobile screen. Take the time to chew slowly and engage all your senses while eating.
Look for low-calorie foods:
Warm soups for lunch can make you feel fuller and be satisfied with less food. You can also always get creative and look for low-calorie variants of your favourite foods.
Walking is an effective way to increase your physical activity. Every time you go for a favourite dessert or food, also commit to walking to burn some calories and also lose unwanted kilos.
Opt for mood-boosting food:
Eat a high-fibre snack between meals. Snacks such as bananas, berries, dark chocolate, nuts and avocados rather than a bag of crisps can fuel your body’s heat mechanism and keep you warmer.
Get enough sleep and stay hydrated:
Winter reduces thirst, and we all confuse thirst for hunger. Dehydration sends mixed signals to your body making you believe you need to eat while in fact what you need is to increase your water intake. So, shift your focus to water and not food.
Setting a regular fitness schedule that includes a variety of exercises is the key to keeping weight off in winter. Exercise does not only burn calories, but it also affects the brain chemicals linked to appetite, so it can help control how much you eat. You can switch to home workouts to ensure that you exercise regularly.
Eat a high protein breakfast:
Studies have shown that consuming a high protein breakfast can help improve appetite control, food intake, and body composition and may decrease snacking later in the day. Breakfasts containing eggs can help to enhance weight loss as part of an energy-deficient diet.
Reducing stress is important for both weight management and long-term health. Stress hormones act to control both food intake and energy expenditure. They are known to increase the consumption of food that is high in fat and sugar. High stress levels can lead to weight gain around the middle, and eating well, limiting caffeine and getting good sleep is important in reducing them.
Stop counting calories:
Research has shown that dieting or the restriction of calories does not necessarily lead to long-term weight loss. They may simply increase cortisol levels and stress, two factors that are known to cause weight gain. So, instead of restricting your calories, focus on eating nutritious, unprocessed food.
Expose your body to light:
The appetite-suppressing hormone serotonin is in sync with sunlight. Since the sun sets earlier in the winter, our body secretes a smaller amount of serotonin, so make sure you continue to get a fair amount of light.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 November, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.