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Banish the Binge this Winter – Latest Research

By 11/06/2015May 23rd, 2017No Comments


For some, Winter is often a time binge eating (BE) can rear its ugly head. The cooler months make us hunt down heavy foods to feel comforted. The Winter chill leaves us feeling hungrier and sends us going back for more. There are a number of factors at play here and it is not just a case of seeking Winter warmth.

BE is a disorder involving persistent episodes associated with a sense of loss of control. A tendency to overeat from time to time is only human and does not mean we have BE disorder. However, similar mechanisms underlying BE may be what drives us to overeat, especially as the Winter chill sets in. Putting into practice the latest research into BE can be helpful to assist in having a healthy relationship with food.

During Winter we get less sunshine, which has been shown to reduce our serotonin levels. Serotonin is a hormone which plays an important role in mood regulation. When levels are low it can leave us feeling down, causing cravings for the wrong kind of carbohydrates. Unfortunately, it is much easier to overeat carbohydrates than protein and fats causing excess energy intake.

Darker mornings and shorter afternoons can also change our sleep routine. Disrupted sleep patterns, due to over sleeping or lack of sleep, can also wreak havoc with our appetite signals. Circadian misalignment can impact our satiety signal leptin and make it harder to control portion sizes during the day.

Overeating does not have to be your fate this Winter, there are numerous well researched dietary and lifestyle practices to put in place to leave this Winter trend out in the cold.

Mediterranean Diet (MD)

Recently, the MD was trialled as a way to reduce BE and promote weight loss. The MD is famous for its high anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and omega-3 fatty acids intake. Notably, it is believed to curb appetite via regular intake of fibre rich foods including legumes, vegetables, whole grains and nuts. Results of this study showed adherence to the MD had a significantly positive impact on BE risk. It was noted regular consumption of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats might assist to regulate the serotonin pathway influencing eating behaviour.

Put it into practice: learn from tradition and try adopting a Mediterranean-“esk” diet, emphasising the consumption of legumes (chickpeas, lentils, butter beans), vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and whole-grains daily and enjoy a moderate intake of seafood (especially oily fish), dairy and lean proteins.

Gut bacteria

It is not unusual to hear that the gut is our second brain. Therefore, surely the bacteria we house within may have some impact on the food we choose. It appears that gut bacteria balance may have an impact in the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, which controls our reward and pleasure states. Furthermore, the wrong kind of bacteria, which flourish from high alcohol and saturated fat intake, produce toxins, which can alter the mood and change in taste receptors, all having an impact in the way we eat. If this isn’t enough, low levels of Lactobacillus strains, have been shown to cause decreased leptin levels resulting in reduced feelings of satiety. Undoubtedly, achieving the right composition of gut bacteria including healthy amounts of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains is the ticket to promoting healthy eating behaviours and prevent BE.

Putting it into practice: prioritise the daily inclusion of foods rich in good bacteria like yoghurt, kefir, miso, tempeh, sauerkraut and fermented foods. Also, don’t forget soluble and insoluble fibres, daily, to feed the good bugs. If specific gut symptoms are concerning you speak to a Nutritionist about the correct probiotic or gut repair programme for you.


The mineral chromium has also been trialled for its beneficial effects on BE. Chromium is believed to improve insulin regulation, serotonin production and dopamine signalling, the neurotransmitters involved in control of food intake. Results of a recent study suggested supplementing chromium might help reduce BE, promote weight loss and reduce symptoms of depression. As a bonus, chromium may assist with blood sugar regulation, a game changer in banishing the binge.

Put it into practice: aim to consume more chromium rich foods at each meal including cinnamon, broccoli, whole grains, orange juice, mushrooms and asparagus. If blood sugar regulation is a major concern consider chromium supplementation, a standard dose of 50-150mcg/daily, although it can be toxic if used in long-term.

Physical Activity

If BE stems from an emotional trigger, physical activity has been shown to reduce physiological and psychological reactivity to stress and may act as a coping mechanism for lifestyle stress.

Put it into practice: move your body daily in a way which nourishes you, if feeling stressed try cardio or if feeling tired try a gentle walk.

Eat Regularly

Avoid fasting and be prepared with healthy snacks to avoid overeating when mealtime arrives. Never enter the kitchen feeling ravenous as it wont assist in making the right dietary choice and will likely end in over eating.

Put it into practice: be prepared, have healthy snacks on hand when hunger strikes. Good options include: raw nuts and seeds, natural yoghurt, fruit and vegetable based dips.

To help get off the binge bandwagon, allow the good bugs to send the right message for controlling food intake and try my green and red sauerkraut recipe, full of healthy bacteria, perfect in salads, sprinkled on soups or delicious on its own!

Zoe’s Red and Green Sauerkraut Recipe on Good Chef Bad Chef:



Alcock, J et al 2014, ‘Is eating behaviour manipulated by the gastrointestinal microbiota? Evolutionary pressures and potential mechanisms,’ BioEssays, Vol. 36, No. 10, pp. 940-949.

Bertoli, S, Spadafranca, A, Bes-Rastrollo, M, Martinez-Gonzalez, M, Ponissi, V, Beggio, V, Leone, A & Battezzati, A 2015, ‘Adherence to the Mediterranean diet is inversely related to binge eating disorder in patients seeking a weight loss program,’ Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 34, No. 1, pp. 107-114.

Brownley, K, Von holle, A, Hamer, R, La Via, M & Bulik, C 2015, ‘A Double-blind, randomised pilot trial of chromium picolinate for binge eating disorder: results of the binge eating and chromium (BEACh) study,’ Journal of Psychosom Res, Vol. 75, No. 1, pp. 36-42.

Lindsey, B et al 2013, ‘Physical activity as a moderator of the association between anxiety sensitivity and binge eating,’ Eat Behav, Vol. 13, No. 3, pp. 194-201.