Causes of Winter Weight Gain & How to Avoid It

Winter can be kind of a downer. We go from summer, where the sun stays out until after 8 P.M., outdoor cocktails are the norm, and clothing is light and airy, to winter, where it’s dark, cold, and we have to trudge through snow in a bulky coat and boots. Another complaint a lot of people have once temps drop and self-imposed hibernation begins: winter weight gain.

It’s become somewhat of an expectation that we’ll gain a few pounds throughout this season. But it’s actually unfair to blame weight gain completely on colder weather. By doing that, and just accepting that lower temps = larger waistlines, you’re ignoring how much control you have over the situation. Yes, whether or not you gain weight this winter is in your hands, too, not just Mother Nature’s. Here’s why.

Contrary to what you may think, cold weather can theoretically help you lose weight.

Research shows that our bodies actually use a significant amount of energy trying to warm us up when we’re cold through a process called nonshivering thermogenesis (heat production). And it can actually burn a significant amount of fat. One study published in the journal Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism in January 2014 suggests that a colder environment activates brown fat, a type of active fat tissue that actually produces heat to burn regular white fat. Another study from 2014 suggests that the physical act of shivering can also alter fat cells and boost metabolism, similarly to how exercise does.

The problem is that when it’s cold out, most of us use every excuse in the book to not step outside.

“No more walks or hikes outside, and it’s harder to motivate to go the gym before or after work when it’s dark and cold,” Jackie Baumrind, M.S., R.D., senior dietitian at Selvera Wellness, tells SELF. When you’re holed up inside and your activity level is much lower, you end up burning fewer calories each day than your body is used to.

When we stay inside for so long, we get bored. When we get bored, we eat.

“We tend to be inside more often in the winter, and watching TV or surfing the net instead of going outside, and when we are inside more, we tend to snack more out of boredom than actual hunger,” Baumrind explains. “That’s a surefire way to gain weight.” We also tend to reach forcomfort foods. Part of that’s physiological, Susan Albers, Psy.D., clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic and expert in mindful eating, tells SELF. “Most comfort foods are hot (mac and cheese) and literally warm our insides from our cheeks to our toes,” she says. The other reason they’re comforting is psychological. “Comfort foods are deeply rooted in our memories of childhood and culture,” Albers says. Once we learn to associate these physically warming foods with cozy memories, we crave them when we want to feel that way again.

The shift in daylight can also throw off our sleep and lead to cravings.

Albers says that the change in daylight hours can throw off sleep and, consequently, our appetites—being sleep-deprived messes with hormones that regulate appetite and cravings.

For some people, the change in season can mess with their mental health. This shouldn’t be ignored.

Some people are prone to developing seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression that’s triggered by the season’s shorter days and reduced hours of sunlight. Like any other type of depression, this can lead to weight gain. If winter weight gain is paired with symptoms of SAD, like feelings of sadness, emptiness, and guilt, or loss of interest in things you used to like doing, seek help from a mental health professional.

These four things will help you avoid winter weight gain—and none of them involves braving the cold. (You’re welcome.)

Winter weight gain doesn’t have to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Here are four things you can do to avoid it.

1. Make healthier comfort foods. “Make a big bowl of healthy (not creamed) tomato or minestrone soup or a butternut squash soup,” Baumrind suggests. “Those can be savory and warm and not be calorie and fat bombs. Also, you can make a big batch to have over several days and pair it with different items to give you variety.” Albers suggests making stews full of fiber-rich veggies and with a water base to stay fuller for longer.

2. Find comfort in other things. “Instead of warming up with hot cocoa and marshmallows, throw your jammies in the dryer for 5 minutes before you put them on,” Albers says. “Or cocoon in a fuzzy blanket. Instant zen.” Make a hot mug of tea. Snuggle under a warm blanket with someone special. There are plenty of other ways to get cozy beyond food.

3. Fix your sleep schedule. “Go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time. This will help your body get back into a natural circadian rhythm, which is responsible for managing your hunger,” says Albers.

4. Work out at home. If you really can’t stand the thought of stepping outside, find ways to work out at home. There are endless ways to stream online workouts from your favorite studios. Don’t have equipment? You can use two water bottles, Jessica Fracalossi, owner and instructor at The Handle Bar indoor cycling studios in Boston, tells SELF. “Try biceps curls, triceps extensions, overhead presses, lateral arm raises and bent-over reverse fly,” she says. Use your coffee table to perform elevated push-ups. Turn cleaning into a workout. “As you clear the table from your next meal, try alternating leg lunges on your way back and forth to the sink or dishwasher.” Try the same thing while vacuuming. Bonus: It’ll help make cleaning feel like less of a chore.

Source: Self | not affiliated with Aetrex Worldwide