Why You Gain Weight in Winter—And How to Stop It
October is when it starts. You might reach for a few pieces of Halloween candy, or skip the gym on the first truly cold morning of the year. In November, Thanksgiving comes around and the holiday parties continue through December, when all of a sudden many people are left reeling from months filled with too many treats and too little exercise. Add in shorter days and cooler weather and it’s no wonder that many people gain weight in the winter.
For our ancestors, putting on a winter layer of extra fat provided protection during the cold months when food was scarce. However, research shows that humans are still likely to overindulge in the months leading up to winter, even though we have access to plenty of food all year round.
“Following this strategy in the modern Western environment, which has been likened to a ‘continuous feast,’ can lead to obesity,” researchers reported.
But with a little planning, it’s possible to avoid gaining weight this winter. Here are five common causes of winter weight gain and how to overcome them.
Problem: You want to snack more.
Solution: Snack wisely or sip instead.
The research cited above shows that you might be subconsciously driven to consume more calories during the cooler months. However, knowing this allows you to plan ahead to fight back against this outdated survival tactic. If you find yourself craving an extra snack, reach for fresh vegetables or fruit. Snacking smarter should satisfy your craving without causing you to add too much extra to your food intake.
Problem: You’re not exercising enough.
Solution: Ask yourself what your barriers are.
If you’re looking for reasons not to exercise during the winter, they are plentiful. The days are short, making it difficult to exercise outside before or after work. Plus, it’s cold, which can kill motivation to get to the gym. If you find your exercise routine slipping, ask yourself why and implement a solution. Simple changes like using an automatic car start to ease your ride to the gym, turning on bright lights and doing an exercise DVD at home, or using a workout buddy to keep you accountable can all be effective.
Problem: You’re sipping sugary drinks to stay warm.
Solution: Drink herbal tea instead.
Your favorite pumpkin spice drink is likely full of sugar— in fact, a grande pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks has a whopping 50 grams. Instead of exceeding your daily recommended sugar intake with one drink, opt for a glass of herbal tea. You can even incorporate fresh fall flavors like citrus or cinnamon. The naturally flavored drink will warm you up without making your sugar cravings spike.
Problem: Temptation is everywhere during the holidays.
Solution: Bring your own healthy treats.
You might be tempted to overindulge during the holidays because there are so many special occasions. Attending social engagements during the holidays can leave you feeling out of control of your diet. To combat this, plan ahead. Eating a healthy meal before you go to a party will help you avoid temptation. If you’re going to a potluck, volunteer to bring a healthy dish, like roasted marinated vegetables, so you know there’s something delicious you can eat.
Problem: You’re craving comfort food.
Solution: Opt for a healthier version.
Comfort foods like pot roasts, meatloaf, and roasts can warm your body and soul this time of year, but they can also be overly rich. Instead of sticking to your grandmother’s recipe, opt for a modern and healthy alternative that uses more vegetables than meat. Skip the butter-rich gravy, instead using herbs and reduction sauces, and keep an eye on portions: make sure your serving of meat no bigger than the palm of your hand, and fill at least half your plate with vegetables.