Feeling sleepy and lazy? Constantly craving the greasiest, most carb-loaded dish you can think of? Welcome, winter cravings … Discover what they are and how to tackle increased appetite just in time for the holiday feasts!
What causes winter cravings?
First things first – let’s dive into what researchers believe are the main reasons our appetite skyrockets when temperatures plummet …
Biology and evolution
Historically, humans have craved high-calorie and fatty foods in winter to store energy and provide insulation during colder weather and times of scarcity.
Even though we now have 24-hour supermarkets and heated homes, our bodies still obey the instinct to seek calorie-dense foods in wintertime.
Less sunlight during winter can affect our mood and lead to a drop in serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates both mood and appetite.
Vitamin D – which is synthesised in our skin after exposure to sunlight – affects our mood. Scientists suggest that it encourages the production of serotonin, and in winter, there’s not enough sunlight for vitamin D synthesis.
In fact, recent studies suggest that ~40% of Europeans are vitamin D deficient!
Craving heavier foods is our body’s attempt to increase serotonin levels with food instead of sunshine. This way, food gives us a temporary serotonin boost, which helps combat the winter blues.
Culture and tradition
Winter involves festive meals and traditional dishes that are often richer, heavier, and more indulgent.
From a cultural point of view, food is more than just nourishment. A full table and decadent meals express hospitality, warmth, and affection.
The effort we put into preparing food for our loved ones makes it a powerful way to express love and create memorable moments.
Less daylight means we produce more of the hormone melatonin.
This hormone (which we usually only think about in connection to sleep) can increase feelings of tiredness and may influence food cravings, particularly for carbohydrates and comfort foods.
Maintaining body temperature
Heavier, fattier foods can temporarily raise body temperature because they speed up our metabolism. This way, they provide a sense of warmth and comfort.
In winter, most people remain indoors, being cosy, and seeking comfort. Heavier, warmer, and more filling foods evoke feelings of comfort and satisfaction.
But since most of us also move considerably less during winter, we don’t spend those energy bombs, and they end up on our waist.
While no gene is directly predisposing you to winter cravings, several can influence it indirectly.
Unfavourable predispositions for eating-related traits – snacking, perception of sweet taste, sweet treats intake, satiety and hunger – can worsen winter cravings.
Then we have the weight-related traits – risk of being overweight, weight loss regain, carbohydrates and body weight. The combination of winter cravings and unfavourable genetic predispositions can have heavy consequences, especially if you’re already struggling to maintain weight.
Do we actually require more energy in winter?
In cold, we really need more energy (i.e., calories), to keep our core temperature stable.
Today, when we spend most of the time in our cosy homes with central heating or bundled into layers of warm clothes, our bodies don’t have to work much harder than any other time of the year.
So, modern life has all but nullified our ancient need for increased energy needs.
But what about those who don’t let the cold come between them and their love of outdoor adventures?
If you still go on daily runs, spend weekends hiking, cross-country skiing or hitting the slopes, your increased appetite is a normal consequence of physical activity. So, dig into that hearty stew to thaw your frosty nose and ruddy cheeks!
But if the only time you’re exposed to the cold is the few steps from the car to the front door, you better hit the brakes on additional calories.
Especially since you can be genetically predisposed to weight gain faster, snack more,
Let’s see how to control those cravings and prevent them from adding extra weight to your new year.
8 tips to control winter cravings
1. Be active
Even if it’s a 15-minute YouTube home training session, get up and do it!
Working those muscles produces heat, which elevates your core body temperature during and immediately after exercise.
Although this warming effect is temporary, exercise also strengthens your cardiovascular system and improves circulation, making your body more effective in distributing warmth throughout your body.
This way, exercise can help you feel less cold in everyday situations and, as a result, temper the cravings for heavy foods.
Oh, and it also boosts your metabolism!
2. Eat in daylight
Reduced daylight hours in winter can increase hunger and appetite. Exposing our skin to sunlight releases the α-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH), which acts as a temporary hunger suppressor.
Eating in daylight hours, when we can soak whatever UV light there is, promotes the release of MSH and can curb our hunger.
3. Control your urges
Don’t give in to instincts. Yes, cold temps urge you to warm up with food, but it doesn’t have to be a calorie bomb.
Any food will boost your metabolism and help your body temperature to rise. Yes, even plain old salad!
4. Know your genes
As we already mentioned, there are several genes that can either help or hinder you in resisting winter cravings. Understanding how your body reacts with the assistance of genes will allow you to control the temptations more efficiently.
The answers and expert recommendations are waiting in MyLifestyle DNA test!
And now some holiday-specific tips that are valuable all year round but are especially helpful now, to help you keep your sanity and last season’s clothes!
5. Manage stress
Don’t let the holiday craziness make you snap!
Delegate and ask for help. Kids can set the table, guests can help clean it, partner can load the dishwasher or put the coffee on.
Plan the menu ahead. If you’re hosting, ask guests to contribute to the feast! They can take care of drinks, starters, salads, even main dishes or desserts, and lessen your workload.
Smart gifting. Set budgets in advance and make everyone write their wish list for stress-free shopping.
Manage expectations. Expect things to not go according to plan. And be fine with it!
6. Plan your shopping
Make a list and stick to it. Buy as much as possible beforehand, so you won’t be caught in the inevitable hectic of last-minute store-runs.
And don’t forget the golden rule of grocery shopping – don’t do it on an empty stomach!
Keep traditions alive but find ways to make them healthier. Deserts are a great example; in most recipes, you can easily halve the sugar quantity and still make a truly delicious festive treat.
8. The 80–20 rule
We’ve saved the most important tip for the last – a healthy mindset is as important as healthy choices. So, make sure 80% of your nutrition is healthy and indulge in the remaining 20% without guilt!
When you’re at the family Christmas dinner or cheering to the New Year with friends, cut yourself some slack and enjoy the good food and company. Happy holidays!