From portion sizes that are too big to continuous unhealthy snacking throughout the day, overeating is the cause of many health problems, such obesity and high blood pressure. If you find yourself eating more in the wintertime but you aren’t sure as to why or, indeed, how to stop, here are the answers to all the questions you’ve been asking…
What Makes Me Overeat in the Winter?
Baby, It’s Cold Outside
As the temperature drops, our body needs to use more energy to keep warm. Therefore, our brains subconsciously encourage us to consume foods that are higher in calories. For this reason, we tend to turn to comfort foods even when we are not cold and do not need the extra energy.
It’s In Our Genes
Some researchers believe that overeating in winter is due to our primitive instincts that urge us to stockpile fat for, what would have been, a challenging season for survival. Whereas we now have cosy homes with heating, our ancestors would have survived on the excess fat stored in their bodies during the winter months when temperatures would drop and prey would become scarce. For that reason, in spite of our instincts, nowadays, we have no need to increase the amount we eat during the winter months as we won’t use the extra fat, but rather we will gain weight and not actively hunt or experience periods of fasting to counterbalance the overeating.
We Get the Winter Blues
With shorter sunlight hours and bitterly cold weather, most people spend the majority of winter indoors and, as a result, are exposed to very little sunlight. This leads to deficiencies in vitamin D and serotonin, which is linked to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Those experiencing SAD will also experience changes in eating behaviour, including: overeating, an increase in appetite and cravings for carbohydrates.
In Western culture, most will celebrate the Christmas period. As well as being filled with family and festive films, we also associate Christmas with food. Not only do we indulge in rich, heavy dinners and many treats for breakfast, we also increase the amount we snack on a daily basis – after all, it is difficult to resist the homemade cookies and bowls of nibbles. The riskiest thing about snacking is that most of the time we don’t realise how much we are consuming and, therefore, we don’t know when to stop.
What Happens When I Overeat?
Your Stomach Expands
When you eat more than the healthy amount for your sex, age and height, your stomach expands to adjust to this increased portion of food. If you consistently overeat for weeks or months at a time, your stomach will remain larger, which will mean that you need more food to feel full and, consequently, you will be more likely to continue overeating. A larger stomach will also push against other organs in your body, which may cause you to feel uncomfortable.
You May Get Heartburn
To break down the food you consume, your stomach produces hydrochloric acid. However, if you eat excessive amounts, this acid may travel back up towards your throat – known as acid reflux or heartburn – which can be very painful.
You’ll Be Gassy
When you overeat, you will inevitably strain your digestive system as it tries to work overtime to compensate for the extra food. This will cause you to have more gas and become more bloated. As well as being unpleasant for those around you, these symptoms may also cause you discomfort.
How Can I Avoid Overeating in Winter?
Consistently overeating will inevitably lead to weight gain – neither of which are desired, particularly when trying to fit into your Christmas Day outfit(!) – so, here are a few tips as to how to avoid both overeating and weight gain this winter…
While it may sound contradictory to suggest eating food in order to avoid overeating, there is method in the madness; eating soup will not only curbs the hunger pangs for comfort foods and warm you up, this delicious dish will make you feel fuller for longer, meaning you’ll be less likely to snack or overindulge at mealtimes later in the day. What’s more, soup is also filled with healthy ingredients that won’t cause you to gain weight – so, when it comes to soup, eat away! Our favourite winter warmer soups are Butternut Squash Soup and Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato Soup – trust us, you’ll love them!
As well as being more active, which will burn some of the calories you’ve consumed, going outside during daylight will increase your serotonin and vitamin D levels and, therefore, reduce your cravings for carbohydrates and comfort foods. If you find that it is too cold or blustery to go outside, spend more time near windows during the day to expose your body to natural sunlight.
As we all know, snacking around Christmas time is one of the main culprits of winter weight gain. However, maintaining your current weight or even losing weight do not require you to cut out snacking altogether. Instead, try to snack more wisely. Instead of reaching for another turkey sandwich, why not opt for a warming tofu chilli con carne? And, instead of another hot chocolate, why not try a delightful fruit juice? Not only are these options healthy alternatives, they are also incredibly delicious and freshly prepared just for you – so all you have to do is order, then eat!
Overindulging around Christmas time is ingrained into Western culture, so don’t be hard on yourself if you find that you slip up and eat too much. Remember, there are so many opportunities to make a positive decision for your body and wellbeing this winter, whether it be swapping out heavy meals for hearty soups or simply consuming more fresh fruit and vegetables – every effort counts and will help you to stop overeating.