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Controlling our winter appetite

In Ask the Experts by Emily Fitzgibbons0 Comments

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Don’t you just love the month of November! The clocks have gone back and every day feels like a lie in. Officially it’s ok to start getting excited about Christmas and do I need to mention FIREWORKS?

Most of us find something comforting about the month of November, whether it’s snuggling up in front of a log fire with a glass of something warming, or watching a box set of our favourite TV dramas, blissfully guilt free, because there’s nothing else to do when its ‘freezing cold’ outside. My friend Ed loves the month of November, because he can finally ease off in the gym where normally he feels pressured to work on his abs. As he gleefully puts it, ‘At last it’s too cold to get them out!

Speaking of abs, experts say at this time of year, as the temperatures fall, we have a tendency to overeat. Simply put, when outdoor temperatures drop, so does our body temperature, setting up the longing for foods that will warm us up quickly, in other words foods that comfort us.

Celia Cooper, Nutritionist and owner of Precious Health, Hale www.celia-precioushealth.co.uk/ explains further: “This need for comfort food relates back to primitive times and the demands on our bodies back then. Not knowing when or where our next meal was coming from, particularly during the colder winter months, when it was harder to forage for food, taught us an important survival lesson, which was to store additional body fat for a later time when we might need it.”

This concurs with a number of studies, suggesting not only are we inclined to eat more during the winter months, but that we tend to reach for higher fat, more carbohydrate rich foods. Lets be honest, few of us will find much comfort in perhaps the same carrot sticks and hummus snack we enjoyed during the summer. Food that makes us feel warm and cosy such as homemade macaroni cheese, stews and mashed potatoes not only look and smell more appealing, but taste better too.

Furthermore, evidence suggests that changes in the weather not only affect the food we choose, but the relationship we have with it. Research demonstrates that we associate particular comfort foods with meaningful connections from our past, which in turn decrease loneliness and increase our overall emotional wellbeing. There is much to be said for good mood food!

However, despite the benefits associated with food offering us comfort, further studies show that the average person gains at least 1 to 2 pounds at this time of year, and for those who are already overweight, perhaps a lot more. So while a heartier appetite over the winter months may not seem like such a big deal, we can end up gaining weight year in year out. Many people around 50 years old are also around 30-50 pounds heavier than they were when they left secondary school. So those pounds roughly equate to 30 winters of heartier appetite.

I don’t know about you but I’ve started sucking in subconsciously already! So how do we avoid the winter bloat? I asked Celia for some practical advice on the matter. She says it’s all about the 80/20 rule. This means eating foods that nourish our bodies 80% of the time and allowing ourselves to eat less healthy options the remaining 20%. If your health isn’t good or you’re looking to lose weight, you may need more of a 90/10 rule.

Celia also suggests swapping some of our cold summer salads for more warming food and drink. Breakfast could be a bowl of porridge, blueberries, ground seeds, sweetened with cinnamon and a drizzle of honey. She advises going for home made or fresh soups such as butternut squash with a hint of chilli or vegetable soups with beans or lentils for extra protein and try to avoid ‘cream of soups…’

Roasted vegetables such as sweet potato, red onion and garlic go well alongside oven baked salmon and greens for example. For healthy treats go for rice pudding made with calcium enriched almond milk, a sprinkle of coconut sugar and nutmeg. Baked apples with some raisins and cinnamon with almond custard is also lovely. For a real sweet fix, some dark chocolate and brazil nuts is a good option.

Finally Celia warns about the dehydrating effects of central heating, so she suggests keeping our fluid intake topped up with warm herbal teas, a personal favourite is redbush and vanilla or barley cup (a great substitute for coffee).

Personally, I’m going to be using some of my 20% for melting marshmallows into an occasional hot alcoholic drink. The month of November is feeling warmer already!


Lindsay George,
Health and Well-being Expert,
Twitter: @therapylgeorge

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