Winter to Spring: Understanding the Seasonal Shifts in Your Metabolism

You may already be familiar with how our bodies respond to daily circadian rhythms, guiding hormone release and energy metabolism throughout the day. However, similar to these daily rhythms, our bodies also respond to an annual cycle known as circannual rhythms.

 Circannual rhythms are a type of biological variation that spans approximately one year, aligning with the changing seasons. These rhythms significantly influence our metabolic functions and are observed in various organisms, including humans. Research has shown that circannual metabolic changes are vital for adaptation and survival in environments with fluctuating conditions.

So, how do these circannual changes affect our metabolism?

 Interestingly, studies indicate that metabolic rates increase during the cold winter months as part of thermogenesis, helping to keep us warm. However, the changes that have a more significant impact on our weight occur in autumn. Research has observed an increase in insulin resistance and other metabolic processes during this time, promoting fat storage as a way to prepare for the coming winter months. This metabolic change is believed to be a genetic response that evolved as a mechanism to combat food scarcity during colder seasons.

 Conversely, as spring arrives, hormone activity increases, leading to yet another shift in metabolism.

Can disruptions to our cyclical rhythms create weight gain?

Potentially yes. Although the research is clearly showing our body does to respond circannual rhythm changes, more investigation is needed to understand the impact of present day living, where there is likely significant disruptions in external and internal cues, such as our exposure to artificial light throughout the day and night, prolonged wakefulness, year-round consumption of sugary foods, and reliance on modern comforts that decrease physical activity. 

It is possible, that while insulin resistance served as a positive adaptation in the past, aligning with seasonal variations for our ancestors, in present time, eating and lifestyle habits that don’t follow seasonal change could now contribute to further insulin resistance and  lead to continuous fat accumulation and the development of metabolic syndrome resulting in weight gain.

How to optimize metabolism during winter

 All this research highlights the intrinsic connection between our bodies and the cycles of nature. To maintain a healthy metabolism and weight balance, it is important to align our diet and lifestyle choices with the seasonal changes dictated by nature. Here are some winter-specific suggestions:

  •  Eat seasonally: Winter crops provide the necessary nutritional balance for this season. Include earthy and nourishing root vegetables, ginger, broccoli, cauliflower, green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, celery, garlic, apples, citrus fruits, and pears. Combine them with rich sources of protein such as cooked meats and legumes for hearty meals.
  •  Align your sleep patterns with daylight: As daylight is shortened during winter, avoid sleeping in and going to bed very late. Aim for a full day of sunlight exposure and spend some time outdoors daily to regulate your body.
  •  Minimize artificial light in the evening: Opt for low-level lighting in your workplace or home during the evening. Use lamps instead of overhead lights and choose yellow-toned, lower-wattage light bulbs. Limit screen time, particularly with devices held close to the face like iPads and iPhones.
  •  Reduce consumption of sugary foods: High-glycemic and sugary foods, including excessive fruit intake, can encourage fat storage.
  •  Keep your body moving: Engage in slower, gentler forms of exercise that suit the winter season. Exercise remains important even during this time. Embrace outdoor activities like hiking, biking, or beach walks to take in the winter landscapes and enjoy the freshness. Bundle up and explore!

 Circannual metabolic changes showcase the remarkable adaptability of living organisms. Our bodies synchronize with the annual cycle, adjusting metabolic rates and energy expenditure to optimize survival and reproduction. Further research into these fascinating rhythms promises to uncover deeper insights into our physiology and potentially influence approaches to health and well-being.




Gangwisch, J. Seasonal variation in metabolism: evidence for the role of circannual rhythms in metabolism?. Hypertens Res 36, 392–393 (2013).

Kamezaki, F., Sonoda, S., Nakata, S. et al. Association of seasonal variation in the prevalence of metabolic syndrome with insulin resistance. Hypertens Res 36, 398–402 (2013).

Netta Mendelsohn-Cohen, et al. Hormone seasonality in medical records suggests circannual endocrine circuits

Sign up to our newsletter