Is it normal to gain weight during winter? 

Gaining weight in winter should not be normal, but it does seem to happen for many people, therefore probably making it the norm!  But it should not be.  Our body functions in the same way in summer and winter, what changes is how we feel, what we do, what we eat etc.

Why is it so common to gain weight during winter and then lose it in summer?

We tend to gain weight in winter because we exercise less, eat more comfort foods, eat bigger portions, and because we wear more clothes, it is often not as noticeable or we feel we can hide it!

In summer, when it gets hot and we start wearing less clothing we become aware of the weight gain and often go on quick fix diets to lose weight.  It also seems easier in summer as we are able to eat colder foods (more fruit, yoghurts, salads etc.) and portions tend to be smaller too.

What types of people are most likely to gain weight during winter?

There is no literature on who actually eats more in winter.  I think generally people eat more and therefore gain weight. 

One part of the answer is those people who are emotional eaters.  This means that when they feel more emotional, they tend to go to food for comfort. 

Winter is an especially ‘emotional’ time as we see less of the sun and therefore some people suffer from SAD (seasonal affective disorder) or otherwise known as ‘winter blues’ or ‘winter depression’ with symptoms of appetite increase, carbohydrate craving, weight gain and increased sleeping rather than decreased appetite and insomnia.

Also, because we are colder during this time we often want to eat to warm up – by eating our bodies need to digest the food and this would increase our bodies temperature slightly.  

Is there a chemical reaction in the brain that increases our appetite in colder weather?

The only theories in brain chemical changes in winter apply to SAD patients, but this may give an indication of changes that generally occur in winter.

Melatonin is secreted in response to darkness, so there is more melatonin around in winter when the nights are longer than the days.  Patients with SAD have greater seasonal fluctuations in their melatonin rhythm.

In some cases, low serotonin activity may contribute to the symptoms of SAD.  Another possible link is altered tryptophan responses.  The symptoms of SAD could also be low levels of dopamine and/or norepinephrine in the brain.

Do we need to buy and stock our fridges with different food during winter?

It is important to remember that summer and winter eating need to be different in terms of what foods you choose.  Generally we crave warmer foods and meals in winter and struggle eating the colder foods.  Foods such as soups, stews, chillies, curries and casseroles are very comforting in winter, and if made with little or no oil and eaten in the reasonable portions these foods are perfect meals.  If you are struggling to eat fruit, stew or microwave it to make it more suitable to the season.   Instead of yoghurt choose a glass of milk warmed up with some added cinnamon or vanilla for a tasty snack.  Similarly with your cereal, have it with warm milk or make yourself porridge, so that you can have a delicious and comforting start to your day.  As long as you remain conscious of portions, and listen to your body’s hunger and satiety signals, your weight should not shift this winter!

Also remember that if you continue exercising at the same intensity as you do in summer then you can continue eating the quantities you were, but if you decrease your exercise you will need to decrease your portions as well, so it would be in your best interest to stay exercising!

Keep warm and enjoy the winter!

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