Eating habits change in winter – here's what and when to eat

As the weather gets colder and the nights draw in, our eating habits can drastically change.

We tend to reach for warmer, heartier and more filling meals, but this change in appetite can skew our body’s routine.

So what should we be aware of?

As hot weather decreases our appetite, it makes sense that cold weather would increase it.

‘We tend to be hungrier in the winter months,’ Pauline Cox, functional nutritionist, author and nutritional advisor to Wiley’s Finest sustainable supplements, tells Metro.co.uk.

‘The lack of sunshine can have a significant impact on our appetite. Sunshine stimulates a hormone called Melanocyte-Stimulating Hormone, which can suppress our appetite. 

‘So reduced daylight can therefore increase our hunger and appetite.’

Timing matters

‘It is believed that eating when it’s light rather than when it’s dark has a positive impact on our metabolism due to our circadian rhythm,’ explains Carolyn Nicholas, the Director of Coaching at Able App.

‘We know from the summer months when it’s lighter for longer, we typically have more energy and are more active. 

‘The colder, darker winter months tend to make us want to hibernate more and eat hearty soups, stews, and roasts.’

While Carolyn acknowledges that everyone is different and may need to try different habits to see what works best, she does advise that people tend to feel better when sticking to a 12-hour eating window.

‘Creating a window for eating is ideal for optimising blood sugars as well as insulin sensitivity,’ adds Pauline. 

‘While the temptation may be there to snack late at night as we cosy up on the sofa, it is better for our sleep, digestive health and metabolism, to not eat late at night or drink alcohol late at night either.

‘Try cutting off eating after 7pm to allow a good two to three hours of non-eating before bed. A walk after dinner is also beneficial for blood sugars, digestion and sleep.’

Carolyn explains that sleep tends to be enhanced when we are not constantly eating around the clock. But going to bed hungry can also impact our sleeping patterns, causing us to wake up earlier.

‘Getting a good quality of sleep (deep and REM), consistent movement during the day, drinking plenty of pure water, and eating more whole foods during the day can help stabilise blood sugar and keep you feeling energised and ready to take on a winter’s day,’ she adds.

Consistency is key

‘I’d recommend sticking to three meals a day during regular times in winter. This is because your body will already be used to meals at a specific time,’ says Lujain Alhassan, Exante’s in-house nutritionist.

 ‘Although it can be tempting to snack more frequently and increase your portion size during the colder months, I would recommend sticking to smaller portions and healthier snacks as much as possible.’

But it’s not just about how much we consume. We also tend to change our diets in the winter too.

‘We often crave more carb-laden comfort food during the winter months because of their mood and energy boosting powers,’ explains Lola Biggs, a registered dietician at Together Health.  

‘The cold weather stimulates our survival impulse and shorter, darker days can give many of the winter blues, so we want to snack more.’

So what should we be eating?

Our nutritional needs vary during the winter months, so you may need to be mindful of the vitamins and minerals in your meals. 

‘Change in weather also leads to a change in appetite,’ says Lujain. ‘Most people reduce their consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables during winter and opt for more hearty foods that provide warmth.’

While it may be comforting, this can be problematic if we are not getting the correct nutrients in our diet.

‘Ensuring we have plenty of vitamin D to keep our immune function and mood optimal in key,’ says Pauline. 

‘Vitamin D can be challenging to obtain from our diet. Oily fish is a good source, or supplement using a high-quality fish oil supplement from wild-caught fish that includes Vitamin D.’

And it’s not just vitamin D we need to keep an eye on.

‘The foods we eat play a crucial role, with foods high in vitamin E, zinc and vitamin B all having the potential to boost our mental health,’ adds Lola.

‘Breakfast is key – something like porridge with berries, a sprinkle of cinnamon, flaxseeds and a handful of mixed nuts is incredible at setting you up for the day. 

‘It’s nourishing, a great source of vitamins, minerals and fibre and gives you slow-releasing energy.’

For Lunch, Lola suggests a warming bowl of soup with plenty of seasonal veggies like onions, carrots, squash, and dark, iron-rich leafy veg. 

‘Add some chicken, beans or lentils for extra protein,’ she suggests. 

‘I like to make hearty, healthy stews and casseroles for the evening using lots of veggies, immune-boosting spices, and lean meat with roasted sweet potatoes or quinoa. 

‘A legume-packed chilli is perfect for a cold winter’s evening and also helps you pack in lots of your five a day. Or use up all those root veggies lurking in the fridge and roast them up in the oven.’

Fill your body with goodness, and fuel yourself through those colder months.

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