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How the Winter Season Affects Our Eating Patterns

January 15, 2023

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Winter is here, and with it comes cold weather, shorter daylight hours, and cold and flu season. This change in weather also has an impact on our eating habits, but the question is why?

We often look past the fact that, as humans, we are part of the animal kingdom. Like bears hibernate for the season, we too slow down during the winter months. Even though we do not sleep for five to seven months out of the year, the winter season is a time of year we tend to spend more time indoors.

It is in our nature to want to consume more calories during the colder months, but to promote healthy aging, we shouldn’t give in to all our cravings. Our team at Franciscan Ministries is sharing how winter can affect our eating patterns, as well as a few ways to maintain healthy habits and choose healthy alternatives throughout the season.

Changes that Impact Eating Habits

Lowered Internal Body Temperature

During the winter, our internal body temperature drops. When this happens, our bodies burn more calories to try to keep warm. As a result, you feel hungrier and crave more calories to replace what you have been burning.

Because of this, we tend to reach for calorie-loaded foods and drinks to keep us warm, such as hot chocolate and hearty stews and soups. Fortunately, healthy alternatives to warm yourself up and replace your calories could include hot teas and broth-based soups loaded with nutrients, such as vegetables and beans.

Less Physical Activity

The colder weather makes it more challenging to get outside and maintain our regular exercise routines. Instead, we want to get cozy and relax indoors during the winter months. However, not only are we not getting the exercise we need, but the time we would normally spend being active is often replaced with more eating. According to Forbes, “the less active we are, the more likely we are to fill that gap in time with eating.”

The solution is to find new ways to stay active during the winter season. Even though you may not be able to get outside and follow your normal routine, try at-home exercises that you can do from the comfort of your home. This will benefit your physical and mental health.

Dealing with the Winter Blues

According to the Cleveland Clinic, “about 5% of adults in the U.S. experience [seasonal affective disorder]…About 10% to 20% of people in America may get a milder form of the winter blues.”

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression caused by a lack of exposure to light. It occurs the same time each year, usually during the winter months since the days are shorter, and resolves itself once the longer days of spring arrive. WebMD states, “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.”

This is where eating habits come into play. Carbohydrate-rich foods provide a rush of serotonin, so overeating or craving foods with carbohydrates make sense for those dealing with the winter blues.

Barrie Wolf-Radbille, MS, RD, a nutritionist with the New York University Program for Surgical Weight Loss, states, “seasons affect moods and moods affect our eating patterns, so when it’s dark and gloomy, people just tend to eat more.”

Less Light = More Calories

The amount of light exposure you get in a day directly impacts your cravings. This is true even indoors – and while you are eating!

A recent study seated half of its participants in a well-lit room and the other half in a dimly lit room. The results found that those who dined in the well-lit area were “24 percent more likely to choose healthy menu items and eat more vegetables” while those who dined in the dimly lit area “ordered 39 percent more calories.”

If you go into the winter season expecting to eat unhealthily and gain weight, you likely will. Your mindset plays a significant role in how you cope with the changes of the season. Stay positive, do your best to select healthy alternatives and remember that it is okay to give in to your cravings every once in a while.

If you want to learn more about our dining programs and the services we offer in our Franciscan Communities across Illinois, Ohio, and Indiana, visit our website or contact a member of our team.