Winter Hunger: Why is our hunger elevated during the winter?


Do you ever notice how you’re often hungrier once the cold season hits? Granted, there are many opportunities to endlessly bake and celebrate with family over food. However, on a daily basis you crave more food with substance (ie, higher calorie food) and maybe you have snacks throughout the day. Some researchers suggest there may be a primitive response in us, warning us to stock up on calories for the winter ahead. However, the dwindling daylight hours, colder temperatures and the increase of time spent at home can all contribute to changes in eating habits during the winter months.

The sun has many benefits, allowing us to get adequate vitamin D, which builds our melatonin and increases our serotonin levels.  Melatonin is a hormone that is key to the ever revolving sleep and alert cycle of your body. It is important to get enough, resulting in a good night’s sleep.  Melatonin is produced in the nocturnal hours and stops when the body is exposed to optimal sunlight in the morning (or screen time at night!).  The sun is often clouded or rising later in the winter, resulting in a longer duration of melatonin production, meaning this could be a reason you are often drowsy during the days1.  When you are sleepy throughout the day, or don’t get enough/good quality sleep, it leads to over-consumption. The hormone that tells the body when you are full, Leptin, is stunted and the hormone, Ghrelin, that tells us when we are hungry is amplified by lack of sleep2.


The precursor to melatonin is serotonin, which is a hormone responsible for your positive and calm moods. Serotonin has been effective against seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a type of depression found in the winter months. With low levels of serotonin coming from the sunlight in the winter, people often consume more carbohydrates, which also increases serotonin levels. Because of the insulin secretion causing the serotonin boost, people often crave high-carb foods during the winter to improve their moods3.


With colder temps and darkness settling in sooner, we often hunker down in our homes and are less likely to go outside for any activity. The more time spent in our homes creates a greater temptation to snack between meals. The decrease of physical activity, along with the increased chance of over-eating has many people gaining weight during the winter months. Some helpful tips to get you through, until the light at the end of the tunnel called Spring arrives, are:


  • Consume foods that are higher in protein and healthy fats, which will have you feeling fuller longer

  • Enjoy your winter favorites, just remember our favorite saying “everything in moderation”

  • Whether you have to bundle up and take a stroll outside during your lunch break, get some physical activity (hopefully involving sunlight!)

  • Get a good night’s rest

  • Avoid snacking, instead drink a cup of hot tea or warm water which creates that fullness affect


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Posted on February 27, 2018 .