The quick decrease in temperature can make winter appetites increase just as quickly. When we encounter cold temperatures, our bodies seek out foods that yield heat, resulting in increased cravings for quick energy in the form of sugars and starches. Unfortunately, that sets up your body for a vicious cycle of sugar spikes and crashes that keep your appetite in constant turmoil.
The impending surge of holiday treats does not help either. For others, the decrease in daylight can cause problems, like Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This type of depression, caused by lack of light, can sometimes lead to an increased desire for carbohydrates, because it triggers a surge of serotonin. Even those of us without full-blown SAD can find ourselves spending more time on the couch with a handful of munchies. To avoid the winter calorie trap, here are some tips:
Get physical. Exercise raises and sustains serotonin levels. Think ahead about a winter workout plan. I like to spend more time with the dumbbells in the gym or doing short sprints outside that limit my exposure to the winter chill. Remember your kids, too! They might need more time at indoor playgrounds and activity centers.
Snack well. I reach for winter snacks that are high in protein or fiber, such as nuts, eggs, a slice of low-fat cheese, or yogurt with apple or cantaloupe. It is important to have both protein and a touch of fat in your snacks to help temper the carbohydrate cravings. Healthy snacking will help control your blood sugar levels, fuel your body’s heat mechanisms, and keep you warmer in the winter.
Reach for low-calorie comfort. Try modifying comfort food recipes to reduce the calorie impact. Cauliflower is my favorite potato replacement in thick soups or dishes. In the evenings, a warm, ginger-infused herbal tea with masala powder, milk and cinnamon for sweetness is my go-to drink for comfort. Ginger is a small calorie hit and circulation builder.
Keep your vitamin D levels up. Although it is still up for debate, there is evidence that bringing up vitamin D levels can help alleviate some of the typical depressive symptoms for a subset of SAD sufferers. If you are dark-skinned or have genetic links to sunnier parts of the world, living in Beijing can certainly shortchange your levels of this very important vitamin that acts as a hormone in many body systems.
Get out, especially on a blue sky day. Swap that post-dinner walk for a post-lunch walk, when the sun is at its highest, even if that means pulling your wooly hat low and winding the scarf around several times to keep your nose warm. Five to ten minutes of sunlight streaming through your eyes can help balance those brain chemicals and chase the blues away, so you’re less likely to seek comfort from the fridge.
Photo by jason rust via Flickr