So, Do We Really Need To Eat More In The Winter?

Here's what the science really says about our increased appetite in cold weather.
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You’re reading Winter Well, our seasonal guide to taking care of your body, mind and spirits during the winter months.

When it’s cold and miserable outside, it can feel like an instinct to reach for more substantial, comforting food in a bid to warm ourselves up.

But is this true, considering we don’t *really* hibernate in the winter? Do we actually need to eat more, or is it just psychological?

Here’s what the experts say.

According to Signe Svanfeldt, lead nutritionist of the healthy eating app Lifesum, we *do* actually burn more calories in winter.

She told HuffPost UK: “We do burn slightly more energy when being cold, as our body uses more energy to heat itself up. In the opposite way we can feel more in the mood for lighter foods in a warm climate with high temperatures.

“When cold, we can also feel like having more warm food over lighter dishes such as salads, sandwiches and fruits.”

Svanfeldt points out previous research from 2021 that shows our metabolism increases when it’s colder, “while our urge to eat also increased compared to warmer climate”.

Sadly, this is not enough to justify having a second dinner though – we need just 150 extra calories each day, according to this Guardian article.

Young cheerful woman eating vegetable soup at restaurant
LordHenriVoton via Getty Images
Young cheerful woman eating vegetable soup at restaurant

As Svanfeldt explains: “We don’t need to make any drastic changes, although it can be wise to listen to your body’s hunger signals and ensure you get enough energy and a balanced split of the macronutrients.”

Instead she suggests making sure you eat balanced and warm meals with plenty of protein, fibre and unsaturated fats.

Complex carbohydrates are ideal too, as they take more energy to digest.

She adds: “If you have any weight related goal, it can be wise to track your intake, both to ensure you are getting enough – but also to make sure so stay within your requirement to avoid eating above your needs due to an increased hunger. ”

So, why do we feel so hungry if we don’t actually need that much extra food?

The Guardian suggests it might be to do with serotonin, with falling sunlight meaning we try to find other sources of happiness – which could lead you to falling into more food-dependent habits.

Sunshine triggers a hormone called Melanocyte-Stimulating Hormone, which can suppress hunger – reduced daylight hours can subsequently increase hunger and appetite.

Director of coaching at Able App, Carolyn Nicholas, also told the Metro: “It is believed that eating when it’s light rather than when it’s dark has a positive impact on our metabolism due to our circadian rhythm.”

She recommended sticking to eating in a 12-hour window, although that’s not possible for everyone, but helps “optimise” blood sugars.

It’s also better not to snack late at night – this optimises sleep – but to go for a walk after dinner instead.

Winter calls for us to take greater care of ourselves and each other at this time of year, from our health and homes to our headspace and matters of the heart. Whether you’re seeking motivation or hibernation, HuffPost UK’s Winter Well series is here to help you through the short days and the longer months.

Lynn Scurfield for Huffpost