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Control Your Winter Appetite

Control Your Winter Appetite

The weather outside is frightful but the food inside is so wonderful! You are really not alone if that’s the tune that runs through your head from November through March. As temperature falls, our winter appetite runs out of control. We do tend to eat more during the winter season, with the average person gaining at least 0.5-1 kg and a lot more in case the person already is overweight. It may be true that an uncontrolled appetite for a few months may not seem like such a big deal, it can actually be when we end up gaining weight year after year. But what is it about freezing temperatures that drive us to crave and eat more? You’re only partially right if you’re thinking it’s because holiday goodies are more abundant in the wintertime. In fact, there are a number of factors.

The Comfort of Food:
Days are shorter, and nights are longer. It’s cold. Whatsoever is the reason, cravings for comfort foods increase when winter hits. And unluckily, few of us find comfort in carrots and whole wheat breads. As soon as temperatures drop, our appetite goes up for high-calorie, high-carb foods. Why? Because your body temperature drops, and that’s what sets up the longing for foods that will warm you quickly. Feeling cold sends the body a message to heat up for the sake of triggering a self-preservation mode. When we give in to cravings for sugary and starchy foods, we will set up a vicious cycle that keeps the appetite in motion since our blood sugar will spike and then fall down. There’s also a cultural factor which influences our winter food choices: Technically, any food will boost your metabolism and raise up your body temperature, however culturally, we’re not used to think of fruits and vegetables as winter foods, that’s mainly because we associate winter with heavier meals. So, when your body sends the message, “Warm me up,” your brain hears, “Bring on the cheese burger.”

The Dark Days of Dieting:
Despite the fact that for some, it is the falling temperatures that sets appetite in motion, whereas for others, it’s the decrease in sunlight, as many people suffer from SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression caused by a lack of exposure to light. (SAD occurs the same time each year as the days are shorter, but goes away as the days get longer in spring and summer.) Other causes besides shorter days and a decrease of light in the winter 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, it’s also carbohydrates and lots of them. Why? Because those carbohydrate-rich foods promote a serotonin rush which is a self medication for many people who are affected with SAD. Nevertheless, your eating habits can be affected by shorter days and longer nights even if you are not affected by SAD, as when it gets dark out early, you will stay in more, so you will feel more isolated and usually hungrier. As a matter of fact, seasons affect moods and moods affect our eating patterns, so people tend to eat more when it’s gloomy and dark. Moreover, winter can cut into physical activity. In addition to having reduced outdoor activity times because of shorter days and colder weather, in many locations, snow and ice makes normal fitness activities impossible. And the lack of activity is a double trouble since exercise helps increase serotonin levels. Lack of physical activity increases the appetite which means you will eat more and move less and that’s a disasterous plan for weight gain!

6 Ways to Beat the Seasonal System:
Despite all the factors which boost your appetite, you still can take control.
You can keep your life and your appetite in perfect harmony all year long with a little bit of planning.

Here are some suggestions:
1. Have a Healthy Snack: Eat snacks which are high in protein and high in fiber, like peanut butter on a whole wheat toast, or low-fat cheese on a slice of whole wheat bread. Healthy snacking will help you keep warmer by fueling your body’s heat mechanism. We will crave for less carbs when we remain warmer in cold weather.
2. Make a Winter Activity Plan: Exercise does not only burn calories, but it also affects brain chemicals linked to appetite. So, it doesn’t matter if it’s already mid-winter, you can still take a pen and paper and list all the activities you did in spring and summer and then make a corresponding list of winter activities you could possibly do.
3. Create Low-Calorie Comforts: If you know you’re going to crave those wintry comfort foods, be creative in cutting calories while keeping the comfort. You can do this by finding lower-cal options of everything, for example burgers made with low-fat cheese, steamy pizza with veggies and a whole wheat crust, a bowl of vegetable soup, cocoa with non-fat milk…
4. Get a Daily Dose of Light: Try to spend at least some time outdoors in sunlight every day in case you think your food cravings may be related to shorter days.
5. Keep a Cover on Seasonal Goodies: Keep left over treats of the holidays out of direct eye view. If someone has brought you goodies as a gift, say thanks, without tasting.

Christelle Bedrossian
Beirut, Lebanon


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Dietitian Christelle Bedrossian