Feature: Gaining weight in winter 'down to temptation and over-indulgence, not cold'

28 October 2011

Losing weight can be a problem for some people and many opt for weight loss surgery as a final option. As the winter approaches, dieters may eat less, but feel that they are putting on weight regardless of their efforts. While wives' tales and rumours state that the body retains extra fat in the colder months for warmth, a new study sheds light on these valiant weight loss efforts which so often go unnoticed.

According to research by medical professionals, people put an average of two to four lbs on each winter.

Consultant gastrointestinal and bariatric surgeon Ahmed Ahmed puts shame to the belief that fatter people feel warmer and said that the complete opposite is true.

He said: "Those who carry excess weight actually feel colder.

"When you put on fat from excess calories it is white adipose tissue, the only fat that keeps you warm is brown adipose tissue, which babies have and which is due to genetic programming."

So if it is not the cooler temperatures that cause keen dieters to put on the pounds, what contributes to the gain? One specialist suggested that it might be chemical.

According to Dr Jeremy Tomlinson, an endocrinologist at the University of Birmingham, melatonin, the hormone triggered by darkness that makes us feel sleepy, can also have a role in appetite.

The hormone decreases in the spring and summer but increases in levels when the autumn and winter seasons come around, causing a slight increase in appetite. This could also be because people crave warm and wholesome foods during the colder days to give them an energy boost and keep them comfortable, Dr Tomlinson said.

Craving stodgy pudding and not being able to resist the temptations of seasonal snacks and Christmas indulgences could also contribute to a sense of comfort eating and eventually weight gain.

Researchers at the University of Alberta, Canada, found that people find it hard to restrict themselves to just one sugary snack and also suggested that if sweets are individually wrapped people are more likely to eat more than one.

Jennifer Argo, lead author of the study, which is published in the forthcoming Journal of Marketing, looked at the changes in behaviour towards candies that are singly wrapped. She found that people with low self esteem - often those who are battling with their weight - tended to eat more of the small packaged sweets and did not realise the extent of calories consumed.

The study also looked at how people react to smaller packaged goods and found that some thought that due to the smaller appearance of the food, it would be easier to control portion size, but the multiple and continuous eating of it would mean a larger consumption overall.

Ms Argo added: "Relinquishing control to small packages is a very cognitive process; people are purposefully doing this. We found that if we interrupt the participants, if we distracted them with a task, they don't fall prey [to overeating]."

Dr Perry Barrett at Aberdeen University suggested that winter overeating is usually something done to cheer oneself up and stave off slumps of seasonal blues.

He explained that in spring and summer people take in more carbohydrates for energy but develop a tendency for fattier foods in autumn, a process that may be driven simply by a desire to make them feel better.

Consumers also consider larger portions of food and drink to be a symbol of higher status, showing they can afford to spend money on more produce, another study found.

Market research published in the Journal of Consumer Research showed that cultural norms surrounding size and status such as the size of a house or television are making their way to the food market where customers will buy more to look more powerful.

But medical professionals are all too keen to point out that the status of a larger shopping trolley can increase the risk of obesity and unhealthy lifestyle of constant overeating no matter what time of year it is.

Mr Ahmed concluded: "The problem is that we no longer need to store fat because we have an abundance of food available all year round. The famine never comes, so we never use up the stores. People can control what happens by making the right food choices."

Posted by Jeanette Royston

Dubois, David, et al., "Super Size Me: Product Size as a Signal of Status." Journal of Consumer Research: April 2012


Health News is provided by Adfero in collaboration with Spire Healthcare. Please note that all copy above is ©Adfero Ltd. and does not reflect views or opinions of Spire Healthcare unless explicitly stated. Additional comments on the page from individual Spire consultants do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other consultants or Spire Healthcare.
 

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