For a lot of us, the cold weather and dark mornings of the winter months equal cravings for “comfort food” and the increased desire to sleep in.
It’s bliss, really. Who doesn’t love a giant bowl of pasta and glass of red wine, and a Saturday sleep-in on a chilly morning?
On the flip side; opting for healthier options and living a more active lifestyle seems to become a lot easier when summer rolls around. In fact, most people would say they actually feel less hungry when it’s hot outside.
So why do the rich food cravings seem to subside in summer? Is it our bodies telling us we don’t need the extra calories for energy to warm up, or simply a new craving arising for fresh, vibrant meals?
I consulted two experts to find out if the seasons actually have any impact on our appetites, and what they had to say was very interesting.
Listen: The problem with saying “summer bodies are made in winter”. Post continues after audio.
Nutritionist Jennifer May said the noticeable change in appetite from winter to summer was likely due to the production of cortisol and serotonin.
Cortisol, a hormone which gives us energy, is produced with stimulation from sunlight, while serotonin makes us feel calm and is stimulated by starchy foods such as carbs, Jennifer explains.
“Cortisol is produced each morning between 5-7am in a healthy human,” she said.
“(It) wakes us up, gives us energy, motivation and appetite, cortisol is also a stress regulator. Too little and we have no ability to deal with stress, too much and we are overstimulated and stressed. Cortisol has a key impact on our digestion, metabolism and appetite. With too much cortisol we feel hungry for quick energy – typically carbs, which stimulate the production of serotonin.”
Jennifer explained further: “Serotonin makes us feel calm and at peace. So you can imagine that if you’re stressed and anxious, eating something starchy or sugary to release serotonin (calming) will balance you and help you return to neutral.”
So what does sunlight have to do with the production of cortisol, our stress regulator?
“One of the reasons our eye lids aren’t completely opaque is so that the suns rays can enter the eyes on sunrise and stimulate the production of cortisol, which in turn should wake us up feeling great,” Jennifer says.
“This is why humans should be rising with sunrise and sleeping after sunset.”
She added that research indicates serotonin production is stimulated by sunlight, too.