Written by Neha Chandna - Dietician, Nutrition Educator, Exercise Counselor with an M.Sc. in Dietetics and Food Service Management from SVT. She has worked with corporates such as HDFC and Standard Chartered as well as BPOs and MNCs on the Right ways of eating and living!
Winter is a pleasing and refreshing time of the year, but along with it comes an unwanted voracious appetite, which becomes a task to deal with sometimes. No matter how much food we eat, we seem to be hungry in no time. Is it because we think we need extra fat to protect us from the cold winds? Or is it just a link between the weather and our emotions? Whatever the reason may be, eating food just becomes an irresistible action during winter. Studies have shown that people tend to add on 1-2 pounds extra during the winters. This could be due to couple of reasons:
The body temperature drops along with the external temperature. This sends a signal to the body to heat up faster and is generally executed as a craving for carbohydrate-rich, sugary, starchy warm foods like potato, cheese, burger, pizzas, samosas, bhajias, etc., which quickly boost your body temperature. But apart from heating the body, they also bring a sudden spike and drop in the blood sugar levels, which give rise to craving them again. It's a vicious cycle that keeps the appetite in motion.
Ancestors believed that winters should be welcomed with heavy and rich foods like gajar ka halwa, dry fruits mithai, chikkis, etc. and this tradition continues even today. Hence we gorge on all the heavenly food prepared by our mothers and grandmothers, overloading our fat cells.
Some people find comfort in food during the low sunlight months of the winter. Lack of sunlight can cause SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), which causes a drop in the brain chemical called serotonin, affecting the mood and leading to anxiety, depression, anger, lethargy, etc. In such situations, people eat more and more of carbohydrate-rich foods for a serotonin rush
But this does not mean we stop at these reasons and buy the myth that weight gain in winters is unavoidable. There are a lot of ways to control the winter appetite and keep yourself warm too.
Go for natural foods: Any food we eat boosts your metabolism and warms you up. Technically, when your body says 'warm me up', your brain hears, 'bring on the cheese and fries'. This is because we are not trained to think of salads, fruits and nuts to warm us up. But instead of running for the fat loaded food, try using handful mixed nuts, boiled salads, or stir fry as your warming options. These foods not only help you feel warm but also give you a fuller feeling thanks to their high fibre content.
Get your proteins: Proteins make you feel satisfied and help keep hunger away for some hours. So try to include a good amount of protein-rich foods like sprouts, eggs, chicken, fish, low-fat milk and cottage cheese in your meals.
Eat small, frequent meals: Instead of having a heap of food at a time, distribute your meals into smaller quantities and include some high-fibre and protein snacks in between meals to help you keep your voracious unwanted hunger pangs at bay. You can opt for peanut butter with multigrain toast or apple, egg sandwich, idli sandwich, dosa roll, etc.
Stock on fibre prior to main meals: As we mentioned, fibre-rich foods help you control your appetite and it only makes sense to have a plateful of salad before lunch and dinner to help you eat less of all the other fatty foods and also to control your blood sugar levels, bringing a stop to your sugar and creamy food cravings.
Out of sight is out of mind: Most of us go weak in our knees just on the sight or smell of some sinful food. So the best way to avoid this is by not stocking foods like chips, cakes, pastries, chocolates, etc. in our fridge and kitchen cabinets. Such appetite-aggravating foods need to be kept away especially during the winters when your hunger levels are at their peak.
Chew slowly: It takes 20 minutes for your brains to get the message that your stomach is full. So when hungry, eat your meals slowly and chew each morsel well to prevent overeating. Eating too fast can make you miss your feel-full signal and result in overindulgence.
Get enough sunlight: Vitamin D formed with the help of sunlight can help control excessive cravings and also stabilize mood swings. Make sure you get 20 minutes of early morning sunlight every day.
Make an activity plan: A bit of exercise daily will definitely not harm you. Exercise is the best way to uplift your mood, thanks to the endorphin it helps release. Once you give your body its dose of 30 minutes of exercise everyday, you will stop craving for the fatty and sweet "comforting foods". Exercise is also by far the best way to tame your wild appetite by controlling the chemicals associated with hunger. If outdoor exercise feels like a task to accomplish, try some indoor ones like spot jogs, jumping jacks, push-ups, squats, lunges, etc.
Be warm: Creating a warm surrounding for yourself can help control your hunger levels. Wear warm clothes, sip warm drinks like green tea or soup, or have a hot water bath. Add herbs to your food that make you feel warm like ajwain, elachi, cloves etc.