There's no shortage of magazine articles about avoiding the 10-pound winter weight gain, but why do we really put on pounds in the winter—and is it as much as the media suggests? Let's find out.
Why do we put on pounds during the winter, anyway?
One theory is it's in our genes. As the days shortened and the weather got cooler, our earliest ancestors' hormone balance changed, creating the urge to consume the highest-calorie foods and store body fat against the coming scarcity. Remember that crops had been harvested and stored foods had to last through the barren winters.
Have you considered that those winter-is-coming genes caused us all to invent food-based winter holiday celebrations? Even our religious holidays are marked by feasting, rather than contemplation and fasting.
The lack of sunlight also causes our bodies to produce melatonin, the sleep hormone, and makes us more tired and less likely to want to get up and expend energy movement. Some folks suffer from symptoms of a pronounced form of this genetic inheritance, called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which can range from mild to severe. Research suggests that these sufferers also seem prone to binge-eating disorders.
For the rest of us, increased eating and decreased exercise means some natural weight gain.
That’s right. Most people who believe they’ve gained significant weight over the holidays average slightly less than a one-pound gain. (The exceptions: people who are already overweight or obese, those who’ve recently lost a lot of weight, and those who suffer from moderate-to-severe SAD.)
Research shows, however, that that pound or two of extra weight tends to stick around all year. People don’t drop the winter weight during the summer so the weight usually accumulates into a substantial mid- or later-life bulge that has health risks.
What to do? Some helpful tips.
Whether or not you actually lay on the pounds each winter, these tips will go a long way towards preventing the winter blahs in all their various manifestations.
Get more daylight! Early morning light boosts energy so open those curtains and take an early morning walk. Sunlight also calms food cravings.
Consider changing your light bulbs to bright, full-spectrum bulbs that help mimic bright summer sunlight. Bright light may even decrease your sensitivity to sweet tastes. A side benefit: people’s skin tone looks better in full-spectrum light and the lights also make everything easier to see or read.
Drink plain water before and during meals, and plain tea or coffee as hot drinks. If you are having an alcoholic drink at a party, drink a glass of water before and after each drink to pace yourself.
Establish a routine that allows for plenty of sleep. Research shows that a good night’s sleep helps prevent weight gain, in addition to its overall health benefits.
Eat high-fiber, low-glycemic vegetables and fruits with every meal: apples, pears, grapefruit, peaches, grapes, onions, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, peppers, salad greens, and cooked greens.
Add healthy fats such as raw nuts (almonds or walnuts). Substitute butter or cooking oil with coconut oil.
Mix in healthy comfort foods such as winter squashes, nourishing soups and stews, sweet potatoes and yams, turnips and rutabaga, carrots and parsnips.
If you're going out, eat a snack such as a salad with protein or healthy smoothie with protein or a few nuts beforehand to help you feel full while you fill up on optimal nutrition.
Here's a great tip from a reader: Do not buy desserts at the store. Make desserts at home. That way, you are faced with bags of flour and sugar, instead of ready to grab store-bought junk.
My favorite: Allow a meal or two each month for indulging your cravings! Box them off mentally. Don’t make or buy enough for leftovers. Savor each bite!
When it comes to moving our bodies, it's harder to get motivated in wintertime but we want to avoid becoming a couch potato! Here are some tips on winter fitness.