Surprising reasons why we eat more over the holiday period


Ever wondered why we have stronger urges to snack over the winter months? Vitality Magazine delves into the science behind it and how not to overdo it

man taking a bite to eat from a plate with twinkling lights in the background

In ages past – long before we lived in warm houses with a ready supply of food at our fingertips – winter was a hazardous time.

Autumn’s harvest would dictate how much food was available throughout the colder months, and once used up, additional resources were hard to come by for most humans.

For this reason, the urge to binge on food at the first hint of chilly weather may be deeply ingrained in our biological makeup.

An impulse inherited from our ancestors, studies suggest, our bodies store calories to help us survive in times of scarcity, similar to how wild animals store body fat for hibernation.

It also explains why “it can be difficult to maintain a healthy diet over the festive season […] and is therefore important to be mindful about the type, and amount, of food we consume,” explains Dr Roshane Mohidin, practicing GP and Head of Health Improvement at Vitality.

Eating makes us warmer

Another factor to consider is that consuming calories also serves to warm the body up, as essentially you are contributing energy to your system. Because cold weather makes your body temperature drop, you could feel an urge to eat more.

Problem is, if we respond to this urge by indulging in high-sugar, high-fat foods – which we are surrounded by at this time of year! - we cause a spike in our blood sugar levels followed by a dip which will leave us feeling colder and hungrier than before. The cycle then starts again, leaving us at risk of putting on weight, or worse type-2 diabetes.

How to overcome temptation? When cravings take hold, perhaps try to find healthier versions of your favourites. Fill up on healthy soups, stews and dishes that contain plenty of fibre-rich vegetables and protein to keep you feeling satisfied.

Beating the winter blues

Shorter days and more time spent indoors means that many of us are exposed to very little sunlight in winter, and as a result can suffer from vitamin D deficiency, as our bodies require sunlight to produce this important nutrient.

You may also experience lower levels of serotonin – a neurotransmitter linked to feelings of pleasure and wellbeing – which is also generated by exposure to sunlight.

Both these deficiencies have been linked to the onset of Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, which often involves low mood associated with the shorter days in countries where winter brings increased darkness.

The good news is that plenty of food can be weaved into meals at this time of year to give us a much-needed boost of vitamin D. Oily fish, like salmon and mackerel, along with red meats and egg yolk are just a few examples, according to the British Heart Foundation.

Less exercise, more snacking

Studies have shown that people suffering from SAD tend to crave carbohydrates, as these help the body use tryptophan, an amino acid, which can be converted into serotonin to boost flagging levels in the blood.

However, for this to work, it is important also to eat plenty of foods rich in tryptophan, such as leafy greens, poultry, seafood and broccoli, and not to consume so many refined carbs that you have no room left for these healthier additions.

Vitality members can get up to 25% cashback on Waitrose & Partners Good Health food when you get active.

If you have a second qualifying health insurance or life insurance plan, you could get up to 40% cashback. A monthly spend cap applies. Excludes beverages.

Log in to Member Zone for the details.

Mingling peaks and immune systems drop

Spending more time inside in close contact with others can also increase the spread of viruses.

Iron and vitamin C are the saviours of the winter cold. This dynamic duo is the perfect set of ingredients to boost our immunity, along with a host of other benefits.

James Hudson, nutritionist and Performance Champion at Vitality, explains that “by combining both iron and vitamin C, you are maximising their health benefits such as energy production, skin health, improved immune function and overall wellbeing.”

According to James, vitamin C also creates “a more favourable environment in the stomach by increasing the acidity, which helps the digestion of food and absorption of nutrients and minerals – one of which being iron.”

Some iron-rich foods include red meats (like beef and lamb), beans and other grains (such as lentils), leafy greens and dried fruit. As for foods high in vitamin C, it’s not just satsumas, why not try bell peppers, broccoli or kiwi too?

So next time you are in the kitchen, perhaps try a winter warming beef and orange tagine with hearty grains and broccoli; a perfect winter warmer meal, packed full of healthy goodness.

We stay in when the weather is bad

Lounging on the sofa can seem like a more favourable pastime during the colder winter months, but skipping exercise can make us more inclined to snack, whether it be out of boredom or eating while doing certain things, such as watching a film.

Because this extra eating coincides with a drop in physical activity, it’s likely our bodyweight will increase over the festive period. We carry this into the new year, and in some cases, may not shed it.

However, there are plenty of ways to reduce inactivity during the holiday season. As Jonathan Kibble, Head of Exercise and Physical Activity at Vitality, points out:

  1. Opt for indoor activities – Whether you choose online classes with Virgin Active, Peloton or Jennis there are more options than ever to get active from the comfort of your home.
  2. Set your intention - Setting your intentions at the start of the week with what exercise you can fit in and when, is a great habit to get into and will help to keep you accountable.
  3. Pick something fun – Choosing an activity you enjoy is a great way to give you an energy and fitness boost.

At Vitality, we’re all about encouraging our members to make small positive lifestyle choices that can make a big impact to their lives.

That’s why we offer partner benefits and rewards with a range of big brands when you get healthy.

Log into Member Zone or visit to find out more.

Related: How to stay active in the winter months

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