Sneaky Reasons You Pack on Pounds
You don’t have to be a C.S.I. agent to spot the usual suspects when it comes to winter weight gain, but if it were that easy to identify every diet and exercise derailer, we’d all still have our beach bodies in January. Yes, your hibernating instincts tell you to move less and eat more when the temperature drops, but turns out the common cold, down comforters, and a hatred for Brussels sprouts could cause the needle to creep on your scale, too.
You Sleep Under a Pile of Blankets
It’s tempting to burrow under your flannel sheets when it gets cold out, but don’t get too cozy. Being too warm can actually keep you from nodding off, which can spell bad news for your gut. Columbia University researchers found that people who get less than 5 hours of sleep are 50 percent more likely to be obese than those who sleep 7 to 9 hours a night. But what does your comforter have to do with it? Science shows that you enter and get your best sleep when your core body temperature drops. If your body is too warm, heat dumping can't occur normally, making it difficult to go to sleep, says Douglas Moul, MD, from the Cleveland Clinic’s Sleep Disorders Clinic. The optimal ambient temperature: a cool 60 to 68 degrees.
You’re Nursing a Cold
Nothing derails your workout routine easier than getting sick—especially when you’re already looking for an excuse to skip the gym—and it turns out that the sniffles themselves may make you pack on pounds. A 2009 review in the journal Medical Hypothesesfound that catching a cold may triple your weight gain. Animals infected with adenovirus-36, a virus that causes upper-respiratory infections in humans, were more likely to gain chub than those who stayed healthy. Same thing seems to hold true in humans, says Richard Atkinson, MD, clinical professor of pathology at Virginia Commonwealth University and director of Obtech Obesity Research Center. Evidence suggests that the bug increases the number of glucose receptors on your fat cells, causing them to grow bigger in size and number and saddling you with up to 35 extra pounds.
Your House is Drafty
Who knew? Insulating doors and windows does more than save you money, it can also help you eat less. As it turns out, eating in warmer temps is better at leveling your cravings, reports researchers from Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Women who ate in a room kept at a toasty 81 degrees rated themselves as 20 percent less hungry and ate 10 percent less than those who sat down in a room kept at 72 degrees.
You Turn to Carbs as a Quick Fix
When we’re blue, we unconsciously turn to carbs to deliver a quick hit of the feel-good chemical, serotonin, and we start grabbing them more often during these cold months. “From around October through early March, there are people who go into a hibernating depression. They say they’d rather eat a potato than have sex,” says Dr. Moul. Research shows that seasonal affective disorder can trigger cravings for pasta, potatoes, rice, and that people with SAD can eat an additional 800 calories a day from carbs alone.
Everyone Else is Gaining Weight
The flu isn’t the only thing that’s contagious, being exposed to obesity can make you pack on pounds, too. An oft-cited New England Journal of Medicine study found that you’re 57 percent more likely to be obese if you have a friend who’s fat, and 37 percent more likely if your spouse is chubby. That’s particularly bad news right now, since Americans gain about a pound a year during the winter that they don’t lose later in the year. To make matters worse, researchers fear that the bigger our friends, the lower our motivation to stay in shape. A 2010 study in the journal Obesity found that people are less likely to consider themselves overweight when surrounded by other people who are bigger.
You're a Stress Mess
Between navigating rising heat bills and winter weather warnings, the coldest months spell stress. And when your cortisol levels start to skyrocket, your weight tends to follow. Harvard Medical School researchers found that people who stressed over work, paying off bills, and relationships gained more weight over 9 years than those who kept their cool. Why? Not only do higher stress levels trigger your body to accumulate belly fat, you’re also more likely to self-medicate with the help of Dr. Ben and Dr. Jerry. “When you’re stressed, you don’t think as clearly. You become less attentive to your health, and are less mindful about what you eat,” says Dr. Moul.
You Hate Winter Greens
Your favorite fresh produce—berries, tomatoes, zucchini—may not be in season for another few months, but that doesn’t mean you should feed on meat and potatoes until spring. An American Journal of Public Health study found that people who ate 2.7 servings of veggies a day were more likely to have a lower BMI 10 years later, so it’s important to get your greens year-round. Luckily, there are plenty of winter veggies worth mixing in your diet. For starters, include cauliflower (1 cup, raw, 25 calories) and spaghetti squash (1 cup, 42 calories). Like all vegetables, they’re high in water content and low in calories, so you’ll feel full, not fat. And if you can get over your childhood fears, add Brussels sprouts to your menu. For only 56 calories, a cup of the vegetable delivers 4 grams of belly-fat fighting fiber and almost your entire day’s worth of vitamin C.