Eating all the time? Put on a sweater

Do you slim down for the summer, only to find yourself needing to pull out your stretchy pants as the cold winter days drag on?

If so, you’re not alone.

In fact, many of us routinely gain weight as temperatures drop — a fact we often blame on everything from holiday eating to stress.

Yet, according to scientists from the Scripps Research Institute, weight gain during fall and winter could be just as much about the temperature outside as it is the temptation and pressures that go hand-in-hand with the time of year.

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Cold temperatures hinder appetite control

So, what does cold weather have to do with weight gain — other than the fun of curling up next to a roaring fire with hot chocolate and a warm cookie?

Well, a lot say those Scripps scientists…

And it all has to do with the way cold affects the brain and what that can do to your appetite.

That’s because the researchers have identified brain circuits that make mammals — whether human or rodent — want to eat more when they are exposed to cold temperatures.

Here’s how it works…

Scientists found that when mice were exposed to cold temperatures (anywhere between 39 to 73°F), they headed out to look for food — the human version of sticking your head in the refrigerator and grabbing everything in sight.

Using advanced techniques called whole-brain clearing and light sheet microscopy, the researchers were able to determine that this food-seeking behavior was caused by a change of activity in neurons in a specific region of the brain triggered by the cold.

They say that while most of the neuronal activity across the brain was much lower in cold temperatures, portions of a region called the thalamus showed higher activation.

When the researchers artificially activated these neurons, the appetites of the mice soared. Yet, when the team inhibited the activity of these neurons, the mice decreased their food-seeking.

Put simply, when your body’s exposed to cold, your thalamus starts sending out flashing red signals that say, “Eat now!”

And that’s at least one big reason winter weight gain can become a reality fast.

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Calming your body’s hunger signals

But now that we understand the reality of how cold temperatures wreak havoc on our hunger signals, what can we do about it?

Well, why not put on a sweater?

After all, if feeling cold is what causes your appetite to spin out of control, it makes sense that staying warm could calm those hangry feelings.

Additionally, easy, natural ways to achieve improved appetite control include:

  • Boosting serotonin – Serotonin isn’t just a happiness hormone, it’s also a natural appetite suppressant. This makes eating a serotonin diet a great way to reduce cravings.
  • Improving leptin sensitivity – Leptin is a hormone that sends your body “full” signals to keep you from overeating. By taking supplements that improve leptin sensitivity, you can help leptin work better, so you can eat less.
  • Snacking on berries – Munching on berries in the afternoon can help you consume significantly less food throughout the day. Researchers found that people who snacked on berries ate less at a later meal than folks who snacked on bars, cookies or other confectionery snacks.
  • Enjoying “umami” – The enzyme responsible for the umami-rich flavors of broths and soups has been found to help decrease both appetite and food intake, especially for women with a tendency to overeat and pack on the pounds. Drinking one of these before meals can have you well on your way to appetite control and weight loss.

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How cold temperatures trigger the brain to boost appetite – EurekAlert!

Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

By Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

Dr. Adria Schmedthorst is a board-certified Doctor of Chiropractic, with more than 20 years of experience. She has dedicated herself to helping others enjoy life at every age through the use of alternative medicine and natural wellness options. Dr. Schmedthorst enjoys sharing her knowledge with the alternative healthcare community, providing solutions for men and women who are ready to take control of their health the natural way.