Why We Gain Weight in Winter…and How to Avoid It
It seems like it begins every year around this time. The days grow shorter, the temperature drops…and the number on the scale creeps up!
If this sounds familiar, you should know that it’s not in your head and you’re not alone. Research says that the majority of people living in areas where the weather changes with the seasons will gain somewhere in the neighborhood of five to seven pounds. Each. Winter.
I’m here to let you in a little secret: it doesn’t have to be that way!
But before you can figure out how to avoid the dreaded winter weight gain, it helps to wrap your head around why it happens in the first place.
Why do we gain weight in the wintertime?
1. Living the cold life.
Shorter, cooler days means more time spent indoors, and more layers of clothes to hide under! For many of us, this combination contributes to our feeling less motivated to get moving, and more motivated to choose warm, comforting (read: less healthy) foods.
2. Celebration…after celebration.
For many of us, the holiday season that begins with Thanksgiving (or even earlier at Halloween) and stretches through New Year’s Day means several weeks’ worth of indulgence. Time spent with family, often focused around food, holiday parties, and breaks from our usual routine conspire to wreak havoc on our usually healthy habits.
3. Not-so-sunny days.
The lack of sunshine in the winter months, combined with a dramatic drop in the amount of time we spend outdoors, can lead to a deficiency in vitamin D. Low levels of the ‘sunshine vitamin’ can, in turn, contribute to fatigue and weight gain.
4. Blame it on hormones.
Research has shown that in the winter, our levels of melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating our sleep cycle, can increase by as much as 80 percent. Poor sleep is another contributing factor to our feeling lethargic, and ultimately, to our gaining weight.
Here’s what we can do to avoid (the dreaded) winter weight gain.
1. Get outside.
A brisk walk in the fresh winter air can be super invigorating, and can work wonders for your state of mind. Added bonus: as long as there is some skin showing, you can even soak in a bit of much-needed sunshine (and vitamin D), even if you can’t feel it!
2. Get moving.
When the weather outside is frightful, it might take a whole lot more motivation to stick with your exercise routine. Look at it as a chance to get creative. Identify motivation triggers that inspire you to get your workout on, whether it be a date to meet a friend for a sweat session, a new pair of leggings, or a fun fitness class that you discover online, find what drives you to move, and have fun with it! And here are some tips to eat right pre and post workouts.
3. Enjoy the holidays…in moderation.
The holidays come once a year, and we all love (and need) a reason to celebrate. And with a bit of mindfulness and planning, you can enjoy them without overindulging, and without allowing them to derail your healthy lifestyle. Be conscious of the food and alcohol choices you make, and the toll your busy schedule might take on your routine. Offer to cook a healthier version of a holiday favorite or two so you know you’ll have at least a few good options, and try to prioritize sleep and exercise in the midst of all the holiday craziness!
4. Check your D.
Vitamin D is critical to keeping your immune system strong, so it’s more important than ever in wintertime to make sure your levels are sufficient. If you can’t get enough vitamin D from your diet (from things like oily fish, mushrooms, and egg yolks), you may want to supplement, at least in the winter months.
5. Remember that food is medicine.
Keep your kitchen stocked with healthy options so when the cravings hit—and you know they will—you’ll be prepared to make good choices. Think homemade soups, casseroles, frozen berries, fresh seasonal produce—anything that will keep you nourished, satisfied, and energized. It sounds simple, but if you don’t have the junk on-hand, you won’t be able to eat it!