Winter Appetite Control: Our Top Tips

Even the strongest willpower is tested during the winter months, with the deluge of rain and often wind outside our door. The darker, colder nights seem to edge us closer to those salty crisps, that crusty pizza or an extra glass of red wine. We all have our bad days but, when we’re tired, cold and feel the urge to hibernate, it certainly makes it more challenging to stick to our healthy eating plan. But it’s far from impossible – in fact, some of our most successful weight loss clients lose their weight during the winter season (most say it’s due to the fact that they are more focused than in summer).

It’s not all our fault – we actually have a built-in, natural inclination to store more fat as winter approaches. It’s what we call our ‘winter appetite.’ For our ancestors, this was probably vital for survival. Extra layers of adipose tissue on the body protect against the cold. It is then used as fuel in the late winter and early spring when food stocks would have been low. But for us, that simply isn’t applicable – so it’s an excuse we can no longer use! Today, we are all lucky to live in an era, and in a country, where food is abundant all year round. We no longer need to store fat as it’s of no benefit to us.

Watch the White Stuff

Another urge we may have at this time of year is to opt for white, processed carbs such as baguettes, and also sugary snacks as we believe they give us a ‘quick fix’ and may even help to boost a lower mood in winter. Subconsciously, we may also change our snacking ‘strategy’ to include more of these foods as we are looking for a lift. In reality, these play havoc with our blood sugar control and even our moods. So they are actually NOT the answer to boosting energy levels or happiness. They are a short-term fix that, in fact, make things worse.

A much better approach would be to follow the little and often advice, and to choose lean proteins with fibre-filled veg that will help keep us satisfied for longer. Also having a small amount of healthy fats (such as a few almonds or some olives or avocado) can help keep us full (it stimulates leptin which signals to our brain that we’ve eaten enough). All it takes is a bit of willpower and getting into good habits and good food choices to reap the benefits of a more controlled appetite this year.

How Can Exercise Help Control Your Winter Appetite?

Getting even just half an hour of exercise each day has been proven to help curb our appetite and prevent us feeling lethargic. This really puts our weight control back into our own hands, despite the cold, miserable weather outside.

I realised that myself over the last few years. I’m naturally a ‘cold-blooded’ person and I used to make any excuse to not exercise (I want to just hibernate at this time of the year!). But I’ve learnt to fight that urge – not just for my body and my health but, just as importantly, for my mood (plus my family are no doubt grateful for that!).

Research shows that exercise is one of the best mood enhancers around. In fact, people suffering from depression have undergone studies where exercise has had as much of a role to play on boosting their emotional well being than antidepressants and, in many cases, physicians actually prefer exercise as a form of treatment, without the need for medication.

If you hate the cold, like me, you don’t even need to venture outside. I keep kettlebells (8 and 10kg) at home and lifting those for 15 minutes each day if I can’t face going outdoors. Or how about using a simple skipping rope, which you can do at home or even on your lunch hour in a quiet room at work?

If you’re bored of the gym, then try an exercise DVD like Davina’s (you can pick up a box set with 3 DVDs cheaply enough), or even rent one from your local library first to see if you like it enough to buy one for home?

It’s all about habit – if you haven’t exercised for a month, you’ll feel the difference – lethargic, depressed and unmotivated. Research even shows that your immunity takes a hit from a lack of exercise. I certainly notice that I get recurring chest or sinus infections if I don’t regularly exercise. So, if you’ve neglected it for a while, it’s time to start back at the gym, to get on your bike, or to return to your dance or aqua-fit class tomorrow. You’ll immediately feel the mind and body benefits; it’s addictive, in a good way!

Schedule It!

Sometimes the only thing to work is to make some dates in your diary for exercise between now and Christmas day – and stick to them. Cross the dates off as you complete them for some added mo-jo. Or try exercising with a ‘buddy’ if you feel you need the motivation of another person turning up on your door! Let’s face it: there’s always an excuse NOT to exercise. If it seems like a monumental task, then try saying to yourself ‘I’ll just do 10 minutes’. Then, after 10 minutes, say again ‘Maybe just another 10’! Before you know it, you’ll have exercised for at least 30 minutes, and it was relatively painless.

The most important thing is that, at the end of the day, whether you worked out for 10 minutes or 30 minutes, you showed up and you accomplished more than you thought you would. Well done! Not only is this helping you get closer to that vision of yourself but, as discussed, you’ll also be making a difference to your mood and overall health.

Take control, avoid the quick-fix mentality, take stock and keep moving to reap all the wonderful benefits of feeling and looking slimmer this winter.

Blog Post by Maebh Coyle