Ask The Trainer: Why am I so hungry?!?

Why am I so hungry?!?

A few days ago, a good friend of mine called me and asked:

“My husband and I have noticed that with the days growing shorter and colder weather setting in, we are suddenly very hungry…like we feel as though we can’t stop eating. Why are we so hungry? Is this normal during the fall?”

I love this question because it allows me to get into a subject that most fitness professionals, nutrition experts, and even doctors don’t ever consider: the power of rhythm. 

No, I’m not talking about the kind of rhythm you have when jamming out to The Stones. I’m talking about natural rhythms. (As if your dance moves weren’t natural!)

The entire life of an animal is built around rhythms in nature. There are daily rhythms, like the sun rising and setting or the tide moving in and out. There are monthly rhythms, like the female estrous cycle. And there are yearly rhythms, such as the coming of winter or spring.

Primitive instincts ensured survival

Why am I so hungry…for donuts?!? It’s actually  normal  to be hungrier and crave calorie-dense foods in the fall and winter! That doesn’t mean you should load up on the donuts…but at least you don’t have wonder if your sudden craving to eat a dozen of them is unusual!

Why am I so hungry…for donuts?!? It’s actually normal to be hungrier and crave calorie-dense foods in the fall and winter! That doesn’t mean you should load up on the donuts…but at least you don’t have wonder if your sudden craving to eat a dozen of them is unusual!

The body has specific responses to every natural cycle. As the sun sets your body releases melatonin to help you become sleepy. During the ovulation phase of the menstrual cycle leuteinising hormone prompts the release of an egg. And as the days become shorter and the weather turns colder, our hunger hormones ramp up signalling us to eat more.

There are also some interesting research studies that demonstrate this phenomenon. One study found that subjects’ BMI increased as summer transitioned to fall. Another study showed that participants ate larger meals during the fall, but still reported being hungry.

These responses are not your body trying to sabotage you into eating whole pizzas in an attempt to ruin your bikini-body. Rhythms are about survival. Think about your ancient ancestors. When the days grew shorter and colder as winter approached, the humans who received bodily signals to eat more, and consequently upped their calorie intake and stored more fat, survived…while those who were “on a diet” in an effort preserve their beach physique probably starved or froze to death.

Work with your body’s natural rhythms

Everyone seems to think they have a willpower problem. Stop blaming yourself! This is not an issue of willpower…it’s an issue of biology. Fighting your biology is like trying to stop a hurricane. It can’t be done. Your best bet is to accept that increased hunger, and even weight gain, during the fall and winter months are normal phenomena. Rather than fight a losing battle, try working with your body by following these suggestions:

Soups are among my favorite fall and winter foods.

Soups are among my favorite fall and winter foods.

Eat like a southern European. The Greeks, Italians, and French eat the largest meal of the day between noon and 2:00 PM. Coincidentally, human digestive power peaks during these same hours. That means your body metabolizes your meal faster and uses much of the energy from that meal to fuel the rest of your day (rather than storing it as body fat). If you frequently feel ravenously hungry later in the day, try eating a larger breakfast and lunch. You may find that your evening hunger levels subside when you fuel your body well during the day.

Eat warming foods. When the days get short and the temps drop, I’m so over smoothies! I don’t want cold things. I want warm, comforting, and filling foods. Soup to the rescue! I love soups, chilis, and stews in the fall because they are filling and nutrient-dense without being overly calorie-dense.

Eat more nutrient-rich foods. If your body is not receiving the nutrition it needs from real, whole foods, it will continue to send out hunger signals…no matter the season. This is why you can eat a Big Mac and feel hungry two hours later: despite the high caloric content, junk foods that are devoid of real nutrition don’t satisfy the basic needs of the body. Make sure you are getting plenty of leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, and high-quality protein.

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