Winter Weight Gain: What Causes It and How to Avoid It

istock_000000714185xsmallMany people put on a few extra pounds in the winter. Some people believe your body is programmed to hang on to fat during cooler weather as an adaptation for extra insulation from the cold. But mostly, winter weight gain comes from changes in lifestyle habits. Fortunately, that’s something you have control over.

Winter Weight Gain: Why People Put on Pounds in the Winter

Most people are less active when it’s cold outside. Even if they continue to work out at the gym, their recreational activity declines as they choose to snuggle by the fireplace rather than take long walks or go to the beach. All that sitting means more snacking too. Then there are the holidays – two food-oriented holidays back to back. Too much eggnog, pumpkin pie, and Christmas cookies can wreak havoc on the waistline.

People are also less body conscious during the winter since they can stay covered up beneath a bulky sweater. There’s not as much motivation to stay in “bikini shape.” But that extra layer of fat can make it all the harder to get swimsuit-ready when spring comes. Think ahead, and minimize winter weight gain, so you won’t have to struggle to get back into shape when warm weather arrives.

There’s another less obvious reason people gain weight in the winter. Lack of exposure to sunlight can alter levels of melatonin and lower levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that’s linked with mood. As serotonin levels drop, so does your mood. What do you do to make yourself feel better? Snack on sweets and high-carb foods with lots of calories and little nutritional value.

How to Prevent Winter Weight Gain

What can you do to limit the amount of weight you put on? Stay active. Winter isn’t the time to hibernate indoors and forget about your workout. You may not have to show your body in a swimsuit, but it’ll be that much harder to get in shape in the spring if you stop exercising.

Get out into the light. Lack of sunlight lowers serotonin levels, sending your mood spirally downwards and your carb cravings into overdrive. Dress warmly, and take a walk outdoors in the sunlight several times a week. You need sunlight exposure not only to boost your mood but to keep vitamin D levels high enough. Low vitamin D levels have been linked with depression, fatigue, and weight gain.

Don’t let the holidays undo all of your hard work. It’s okay to give in to temptation and have an occasional holiday cookie or pumpkin pie, but don’t throw clean eating to the wind just because there’s holiday food around. Take steps to control how much you eat and drink at parties. Focus your energy on socializing rather than the buffet table. Learn to be satisfied with a small taste of something decadent rather than eating a whole piece of cake.

Make adjustments to your exercise routine. It may be hard to get to the gym when the weather isn’t cooperating, keep exercise DVDs and simple pieces of exercise equipment at home. You can get a good workout with resistance bands and a jump rope, or simply put on your favorite exercise DVD. Don’t stop working out during the holidays. That’s when you need it the most.

The Bottom Line?

Winter weight gain is a common problem, but one that you can prevent. Don’t use cold weather as an excuse not to exercise, and be more aware of how you eat, especially around the holidays.


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