There's A Good Chance You're Going To Put On Unwanted Weight This Winter. Here's How Not To:
Call it the worst leftover evolutionary urge ever: winter weight gain.
It turns out, your body is hardwired to put on weight during the winter. During the season, most people unconsciously (and against all better judgment) try to bulk up like bears and squirrels, as putting on extra insulation used to be a good way to stay healthy during the harsh, underfed winter months, according to Indiana University researchers.
Meanwhile, the short, dark days can deprive your body of vitamin D and up your production of drowse-inducing melatonin, leaving you lethargic and craving sugar and calories. Also, during the winter, serotonin is less effective in interacting with brain cells involved in controlling mood and appetite, says Judith Wurtman, Ph.D., former MIT research scientist and co-author of The Serotonin Power Diet. So in an attempt to improve our moods, we reach for high-carb foods that will trigger the release of mood-boosting serotonin. (One recent Cornell study found that most people buy more food and calories in January and February than they do during the holiday season.)
Plus, in the winter, your body’s levels of fat-storing enzymes increase, meaning those extra calories are even more likely to give you the jiggles, says dietician Georgie Fear, R.D., author of Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss.
And motivation to work out? Yeah, right. The setting sun, even at 5 pm, is a signal to our body that the day is over and it’s not time to expend more energy, it’s time to relax, says trainer Mike Donavanik, C.S.C.S., C.P.T. So we don’t work out and, in turn, don’t get the endorphins and feel-good hormones we need to perk up during the winter. We get further into a funk, working out less and eating even more.
Hence why most people gain around one pound over the winter months, per research published in the New England Journal of Medicine. And while that doesn’t sound so bad, about five percent of normal weight adults, and 30 percent of overweight ones, put on at least five pounds.
But, biology isn’t fate. Here are five ways to beat Mother Nature and never gain winter weight again.
Cut Back On The Booze
When you’re trapped inside for the winter, it can feel like there’s little to do… besides drink. “With my clients, alcohol intake is a huge contributor to winter weight gain. While I can't suggest a substitute for beer, drinking less beer and choosing a flavorful one can help you reduce the number of drinks you have. One pint of strong beer is still going to be fewer calories than three pints of weaker beer that happened to be on special,” Fear says. Cutting back on the drinks can also help you cut back on the junk food. According to research published in Alcohol & Alcoholism, putting back three drinks can reduce your body’s levels of the feel-full hormone leptin by 30 percent.
Slim Your Coffee
Your caffeine habit can do more than warm you up and give you some extra energy. It can also pack on the pounds. While that’s not to say you need to forgo coffee altogether, work on limiting your use of full-fat milk, white sugar, and even artificial sweeteners, recommends Fear. And make sure you get all of your coffee by noon. That will help ensure it’s out of your system come bedtime. After all, when you don’t sleep well, you’re even more apt to reach for high-energy, low-performing foods the next day.
“Filling up on soup before your main course is a valid method of warming up from the cold and losing weight.” Appetite research shows that eating soup as an appetizer can help you put back fewer calories and lose weight. “The trick is to choose soups that are low in calorie density, so think broth and vegetables, not bacon and cheese chowder,” Fear says
Switch Up Your Workout Schedule
If your mood is highly affected by the weather and short days, it can be beneficial to change your standard workout times to lighter hours, says Donovanik. Consider squeezing in a quick workout during your lunch break, or aiming to hit the gym on the weekends, rather than during the workweek.
Pick Up a Winter Sport
Just because it’s snowy, it doesn’t mean you can’t—or shouldn’t—take your workout outdoors. Getting outside for a sport can help you switch your mindset from “I need to do this” to “I want to do this,” Donavanik says. Bonus: You can burn more calories in the winter. Research published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise shows that race times speed up as the temperatures drop—and quicker runs burn more calories. Skiing, for instance, burns 400 to 600 calories per hour, according to University of Utah Health Care.