Winter weight gain is a common complaint of many people. It seems that every winter we add a few pounds, and come summer we plan on losing them, but we almost never lose all of them. A few of them always stick around, making us just a little bit heavier every year. Over time this contributes to long term weight gain.
What’s up with this???
It seems likely that we have a genetic disposition to store more fat as winter approaches. Many animals do this and it was probably vital to survival for our ancestors. Extra layers of fat on the body protect us against the cold and then can be used as fuel in the late winter and early spring when food stocks would historically be very low. We probably have a tendency to eat more in the fall, when food is plentiful after harvest time, to help this process along. We may also unconsciously choose foods that are higher in fat content at this time.
But people, we live in modern times! Unless you live on a homestead in Alaska, it’s probably not necessary for you to store fat through the winter. Remember that!
The interaction of hormones and other chemicals in the brain can bring about variations in appetite and cravings. Some neurotransmitters can also influence the way we eat. In the cold winter months, people generally feel low, and maybe even depressed. This can be caused by hormone changes due to lack of sunlight, vitamin D, or stress. When we feel depressed or stressed, our bodies crave high carbohydrates to raise our blood sugar and give us a short term “high”. So people who feel low in the winter will tend to overeat or eat the wrong foods, leading to winter weight gain, more depression and a vicious cycle that is hard to break.
So What Can We Do?
Vitamin D Supplements, good self care, Seasonal Affective Disorder treatments and an awareness of your mood can all help you break this cycle.
Substitute cravings for carbs, sweets, and fats with healthy alternatives, such as complex carbs (quinoa, brown rice, sweet potato,etc.), fruit, and high fiber veggies and beans.
Exercise more! Physical activity levels drop in the winter. When you feel like snuggling up on your couch for the night, do a 30 minute workout first. Again, the desire to stay home and rest in the winter is an evolutionary one. We are not cavemen! We don’t need to save our energy for spring.
Read more about how Exercise can improve your mental health.
I am going to try really hard to remember all of this over the holiday season this year. Do you have any tips for keeping the weight off during the winter? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!