Seasonal time change: Does it only affect sleep habits?

The days are getting shorter and the temperature is dropping — reminders of the upcoming seasonal time change.

Any change to the environment can influence changes in our eating patterns and food choices. Shorter days can contribute to spending more time inside and less time outside. This change in habit may contribute to being more active during daytime hours and less time active earlier in the evening and possible increased episodes of eating throughout the evening.

Epidemiological studies evaluating the influence of seasonal changes on diet patterns and selection habits report individuals typically consume more calories and fat in the fall than in spring. The cooler temperatures may have us reaching for higher-fat foods or larger meals as digestion of both generates more heat. Being mindful to the potential for diet pattern and food selection changes during seasonal changes may provide insight to why a few pounds were gained over the cooler seasons.

Three main questions to consider when reviewing eating patterns that may influence weight gain include during seasonal change include:

1. How many meals am I eating between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m.?

Balancing meals throughout the day is thought to be beneficial in managing a healthy weight. Whether three meals or six small meals is more advantageous remains unclear, though recent reports suggest that people consuming three meals per day maintained lower weights than those who ate snacks and meals throughout the day. The general rule of thumb for spacing meals is four to five hours, unless a medical condition exists that requires closer-spaced meals.

2. Do I eat breakfast daily? How substantial is this meal?

Eating breakfast is associated with lower Body Mass Index (BMI) and lower obesity risk. If breakfast is not a part of your eating pattern, work towards including this important meal in your daily life. In fact, not only is breakfast important, but a substantial breakfast meal may be beneficial if you find you are more active in the earlier parts of the day. If you tend to be more active in the early day into the afternoon consuming the bulk of the calorie needs between breakfast and the midday meal, when the body is most active, may ensure the calories consumed are used during periods of higher activity.

3. Am I eating into the evening hours (past 7 p.m.)

Intermittent fasting has been shown to be beneficial in maintaining a lower weight. Intermittent fasting involves the avoidance of eating over a 10-12 hour time period. Work to eat dinner by 7 p.m. and be mindful of activities, such as TV viewing or computer use, that can trigger night-time eating. Energy-dense foods such as high-fat, high-carbohydrate and added sugar foods are typically consumed during episodes of night-time eating, eating these foods at night, during a time of low energy use, can contribute to weight gain.

Breaking the chain of triggers for nighttime eating can be challenging so strategies such as chewing sugar-free gum, drinking water, or eating a small nutrient-dense snack around 9 p.m. may be helpful in workings towards breaking the chain of this habit.

Consuming the majority of calories during the most active parts of the day may assist in effectively utilizing consumed calories. If you’ve been struggling to break habits that are barriers to achieving your health goals, seek out the assistance of a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). RDNs are trained to evaluate the influence of environmental factors on meal patterns and food selection that may impact an individual’s overall health. Once identified, the RDN can provide guidance and strategies to modify environmental triggers.

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