It’s that time of year again. The leaves are changing, the weather is cooling off, and your hunger levels are through the roof. If you find yourself snacking more often and feeling hungrier than usual in the fall, don’t worry—you’re not alone. There are several potential reasons for it, and they’re all quite natural. Here’s what you need to know.
Your body clock is out of whack
In the fall, when the days start getting shorter and the nights get longer, our bodies’ natural clocks (aka circadian rhythms) start to get out of whack. This can make us feel more tired during the day, which can lead to all sorts of disruptions in our sleep patterns, energy levels, and moods—and yes, even our appetites.
You’re feeling colder from the drop in temperature
As the weather outside gets colder, your body temperature drops slightly as well. In response to this change, your body ramps up its metabolism in an effort to generate more heat and maintain a constant internal temperature. This increased metabolism requires more energy, which you get from the food you eat. So if you find yourself reaching for an extra snack in between meals or feeling hungrier than usual, blame it on good ol’ Mother Nature.
Your natural instinct to prepare for winter
Just as animals prepare for winter by storing fat reserves, humans have seasonal changes in appetite as well. One theory is that this increased appetite is nature’s way of preparing us for periods of fasting that might occur during winter when food is scarce. While this may have been true centuries ago, it’s unlikely that many people these days will find themselves facing starvation any time soon!
Your hormones are going haywire
Another reason you may find yourself feeling hungrier in the fall is because of changes in your hormone levels. One hormone in particular—leptin—plays a big role in regulating appetite. Leptin is produced by fat cells and works by signaling to the brain when you’re full. But when leptin levels drop (as they tend to do in the fall), that signaling gets disrupted and you end up feeling hungrier than usual. Not fun.
You’re stressing out more than usual
For many of us, fall is a busy time of year— kids are going back to school, work is ramping up after a summer slowdown, holiday shopping is on our minds, and there’s just generally more on our plates than usual. And when we’re stressed out, our bodies release cortisol (aka the stress hormone), which tells us to eat more because it needs energy to deal with all that stress. No thanks!
You’re not getting enough vitamin D
In the autumn and winter months, we don’t get as much daylight. This can lead to a decrease in vitamin D levels, which can cause feelings of fatigue and low energy. When we’re tired, we’re more likely to reach for quick, sugary snacks for a quick boost.
As the weather gets colder, we tend to drink less water because we don’t feel as thirsty. However, it’s important to stay hydrated throughout the day to keep our bodies functioning properly. When we’re dehydrated, we can sometimes mistake thirst for hunger, leading us to eat when all we really need is a glass of water.
You’re craving comfort food
In the fall, we tend to crave heartier, comfort foods that are higher in calories and fat. This is all part of nature’s plan to help you build your immune system and get you ready for winter. There’s nothing wrong with indulging in these foods occasionally, but if you find yourself eating them every day, it’s time to re-evaluate your diet. Try incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your meals, and make sure to get enough protein to keep you feeling full and satisfied.
What can you do about fall hunger?
If you’re struggling with increased hunger levels this fall, there are a few things you can do to combat it.
- Drinking plenty of water: Carry a water bottle with you and aim for 8 glasses a day.
- Eat regular meals and snacks throughout the day: Be sure to eat foods that are rich in vitamin D like fatty fish, fortified milk or orange juice. Skipping meals will only make you hungrier in the long run. Be mindful of the foods you’re eating and how they make you feel—if pumpkin spice makes you crave sweets all day long, try to limit your exposure to it.
- Get real sunshine for at least 20 minutes every day: The extra daylight will help bolster your mood and fight off hunger pangs related to a lack of vitamin D or SAD.
- Take extra care of yourself to avoid being over stressed: Make time for things you enjoy, get enough sleep, and take a break if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
- Get moving: Exercise is one of the best ways to burn calories, keep your hunger under control, and improve your mood.
But take heart
You’re not hungry because you lack self-control—it’s really the remarkable capacity of your body to react automatically to the changing seasons! Whether it’s due to the drop in temperature, reduced exposure to sunlight, or your body’s natural seasonal rhythms, one thing is for sure—fall is definitely a time when food cravings are at an all-time high for all of us! So cut yourself some slack, and try not to let the fall hunger blues get you down. After all, pumpkin spice season only comes around once a year.