Why do we eat more when the weather cools?

Dietitian Nicole Dynan is here to save us from gorging on yet another pasta dish as the mercury drops. 

We’re all guilty of snuggling up, staying indoors and reaching for our favourite comfort food when the weather cools. It’s definitely not uncommon to notice our diets change from healthy light smoothies and refreshing salads in summer, to carb-loaded/laden meals like pasta and burgers as the winter months start to approach.

But have you ever wondered why we do this? Scientists suggest a few reasons, however, the end result can be weight gain. Once you are aware of these eating patterns, the answer to adopting healthier eating habits all year round is quite simple.

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Why we eat more when the weather cools?

Seasonal changes and dips in temperature have more of an effect on our bodies and our eating habits than we think. The Dietitians Association of Australia has revealed that 38% of women and 53% of men are expected to gain up to 5kg in winter.

Some scientists suggest the reason for this is due to our bodies kicking into a ‘hibernation mode’ when the weather cools, so we tend to eat more but move less. This mode also triggers a self-preservation and protection mode that tells our body to heat up fast. Our brain can translate this into reaching for high-carbohydrate foods that release energy to the body quickly.

Some scientists argue that eating plays a major role in maintaining body temperature as the heating effect of food intake and the energy used to digest food warms us from the inside out. The act of eating itself, not just the energy from food, keeps us warm. Whatever the case, choosing to eat certain foods may help combat cold weather cravings.

How to curb cold weather cravings

In order to help curb these comfort cravings and adopt healthier eating habits all year round, there are simple steps you can take to keep your body healthy and nutritionally on track. Incorporating more fibre into your diet during the cooler months is a great and easy way to achieve this.

The gut microbiome is home to trillions of diverse microorganisms including bacteria which play an important role in our overall health. Some of these microbes may manipulate our cravings as they try to increase their own fitness, habitat, and survival in the gut.

Feeding our microbes with a diverse diet full of plant-based foods and fibre can create a comfortable environment for our beneficial gut microbes to thrive. It can be as simple as including fibre-rich foods such as cereals like Sultana Bran, wholemeal bread, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and legumes into your daily diet.

As the seasons change, so too do our diets, however what remains consistent is the fact that incorporating prebiotics, such as fibre, in a healthy and well-balanced diet can foster a diverse gut microbiome.

The health of our gut contributes to the strength of our immune system and can help our body survive the winter cold and flu season. Avoiding those cold weather indulgences and fuelling on fibre is the most holistic answer to maintaining good health this cooler season!

Nicole Dynan is an Accredited Practising Dietitian/ Accredited Nutritionist/ Sports Dietitian. Based in Sydney, Nicole owns Good Nutrition Co., specialising in digestive health, weight management & sport.