Winter Weight Gain: Why We Eat More in Winter & How to Stay Healthy | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Why We Eat More in Winter (and How to Avoid Winter Weight Gain)


7 Tips for Staying Mentally and Physically Healthy This Winter

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Let’s face it: The four months from November to February are pretty much all about food. If you feel hungrier in winter, you’re not alone. I hope some of these tricks are helpful, and I’m sure you have a few of your own tricks that work for you.

Every culture, every family, and every geographic region has its winter holiday food traditions. The magazines at the checkout counter or in our mailboxes reflect this truth. 

  • Before we’ve even put the Halloween gluttony behind us, they’re flashing us with luscious photos of the five pies of Thanksgiving.
  • Before we carved the T-Day turkey, they moved on to the six-layer Kris Kringle cake with the ganache filling and the whipped cream–candy cane frosting, 15 recipes for the neighborhood cookie exchange, the edible gingerbread ornaments (frosted). The office party!  The community potluck! The rum balls! The Alka Seltzer!
  • Don’t get me going on New Year’s Eve and Day. Look for yourself. We’ve hardly wiped away the crumbs of the New Year’s Crumb Cake when it’s on to Super Bowl Sunday.
  • As we watch football, bring on the bacon-wrapped hors d’oeuvres, the 12-alarm chili, the sticky wings with a seven-layer dip. 
  • Then suddenly, it’s Valentine’s Day, and we’re munching homemade truffles with a side of triple-fudge-walnut–filled torte.

Why We Are Hungrier in the Winter?

Some of us find comfort in holiday traditions, which are often centered on food. And perhaps there is some ancestorial impulse with our north-dwelling ancestors who binged like bears to stuff themselves on high-calorie food as the days got shorter, packing on fat reserves to see them through the winter. Then they’d lie low, not moving much until spring to conserve energy.

Others of us just feel sluggish and ravenous the whole season. There’s just more food at every turn, from holiday feasting to leftovers, and fewer opportunities to get outside in colder months. In modern society, this may simply result in weight gain.  And winter can suck some of us into Seasonal Affective Disorder.

I do enjoy the months of feasting. But I try to remember Miss Piggy’s wise admonition: “Never eat more than you can lift.”

Tips for Navigating the Winter Food Season

Scrupulous attention to staying with small portions? Choosing the fresh fruit cup and passing by the death-by-chocolate cheesecake? Almost impossible. I’ve learned to struggle through the darker months with minimum bodily harm by using these few tricks:

  1. I aim to begin winter meals or outings with a giant salad or a large serving of green vegetables, especially if it’s a buffet or a potluck. The extra fiber in the veggies really does help to slow down the appetite and dampen the insulin response.
  2. If I’m craving carbs, I next add in some protein, which adds to fullness. For example, if you are craving a big bowl of pasta, have a small one and have a chicken breast with it. Moderation is key.
  3. If I’m making a special dish/dessert, I don’t make extras, and I don’t bring my own or anybody else’s leftovers home. Ever.
  4. I trick myself into doing more exercise, often in smaller, more intense doses: up and down the stairs twice when I just need to put some towels away in the upstairs bathroom, or trotting three times around the circular driveway on my way back from getting the mail or an armload of wood from the shed.
  5. I focus winter on weight training. My way of life requires year-round strength, and strong muscles also take some of the strain off my arthritic joints. Lifting protects or builds muscle mass, which revs metabolism (so lifters do burn more calories while they sleep).  If you do not weight train, start during this season! 
  6. I turn up the sunlight-mimicking, full-spectrum lights all over the house, especially on gray days, and try to get outside around lunchtime on sunny days for more exposure to the brightest winter light
  7. I don’t drink my calories. I drink lots of water, black coffee, or tea. I stay away from wassails, mulled cider, hot cocoa, eggnogs, and all of the other liquid refreshments of the season.

If you love the holiday cookies or the annual eggnog, that’s fine. It’s best not to deprive yourself completely of the foods you love.  An all-or-nothing diet where you deprive yourself of a food entirely often backfires. But I hope some of these tricks are helpful, and I’m sure you have a few of your own tricks that work for you.

So, why do you think we have the munchies in colder months? Is our drive to eat a primitive impulse due to less sunlight — or more about temptations around us? It’s an interesting question!

About The Author

Margaret Boyles

Margaret Boyles is a longtime contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. She wrote for UNH Cooperative Extension, managed NH Outside, and contributes to various media covering environmental and human health issues. Read More from Margaret Boyles

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