Starting with the good news – in the winter, the drop in temperatures encourages our body to expend more calories in order to maintain body heat.
Days are cut short, and as dark takes over earlier we spend less time outside the home than we do during the summertime and therefore buy less ice cream or sweetened beverages. Enjoying time outside the home usually involves consumption of food and beverages, so that at the least, winter “helps” us avoid these calories. Also, in the winter, those tempting summer fruits of which we indulge in large quantities, such as watermelon and grapes, make place for citrus fruits that require a more “labor intensive” peeling. Slower eating means smaller quantities.
On the other hand, a short and cloudy day, with relatively few hours of daylight, could result in melancholy, poor concentration, fatigue and even depression, that lead to eating. These symptoms are only experienced by a small percentage of the population, primarily women. More commonly known as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder),
this disorder results from reduced levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that contributes to alertness and concentration, which is secreted when the eye is exposed to light. The long dark hours of winter also increase the levels of melatonin, a hormone that affects sleep.
A combination of these symptoms, particularly fatigue and melancholy, could lead to unnecessary eating, primarily of sweets.
What should we do?
Maintaining a rich and diverse diet that comprises several balancing nutrients, which our body naturally lacks in winter, could help us improve our mood in the winter. Here are some ideas for your wintertime diet:
Proteins – Your diet should be rich in proteins such as dairy products (up to 5% fat), fish, lean meats (beef, chicken and turkey) and legumes (soy, beans, chick peas) that raise dopamine levels and improve alertness and concentration.
Carbohydrates – A diet that is rich in complex carbohydrates such as pasta, bread and rice (preferably whole grain) raises the levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is known for its positive effect on mood, serenity and the feeling of fullness.
Soup - The star of the winter and one of its symbols. Its advantages are numerous and it is nourishing and filling. The more colorful the variety, the more nutritious the soup: broccoli soup, carrot soup, tomato soup, cauliflower soup or a motley vegetable soup of carrots, zucchini, celery, onions, pumpkin etc. Enrich your soup with legumes: soy, lentils, chick peas or beans, that contribute carbohydrates, protein, minerals and dietary fibers. Soup is especially filling due to the liquids that quickly reach the stomach, expanding its walls, thereby creating a feeling of fullness within a short time frame and contributing to slower and more relaxed eating. Soup can also help you feel full several hours after it is consumed, since the high content of dietary fibers in vegetables and legumes requires a longer digestion process.
Drinking - During the winter, we tend to drink less than in the hot summer. It is crucial to drink 8-10 glasses of water every day. Insufficient hydration results in unnecessary eating. We often confuse thirst for hunger and eat instead of drinking. We think that we do not sweat because of the cold weather, but staying in heated rooms causes sweating and may even result in dehydration. In the winter, as in the summer, it is recommended to carry a 1/2 liter water bottle. It is also an opportunity to enjoy a variety of hot beverages.
Exercise – Can’t live without it. In rainy weather we are less keen to exercise, be it a walk in the park or a training session in the gym. The temptation to stay in your cosy home is great. You should plan ahead and regularly exercise in front of the television or before you go home. Once you are home, you will find it very difficult to go out again. Exercise does not only burn calories, but also makes us feel better, improves the blood circulation, supports the skeleton and more. Exercise does not have to be exhausting and intensive, you are not training for the Olympic Games. Walking on the treadmill at home and taking the stairs instead of the elevator are effective and important.
Calculated on a monthly/annual basis, such regular exercise burns a significant amount of calories alongside the other benefits.
Light – Exposure to light, using appropriate artificial lighting, for 1-2 hours a day throughout the winter season can improve our mood.