For many of us, winter and weight gain seem to go hand in hand like a blustery cold night and a creamy warm bowl of comfort food. As mercury drops, so too it seems does some of our self-control. The cold weather can interrupt our workout routine, make us more likely to reach for heavy comfort foods, and can even send you on a mood roller coaster that can lead to overeating.
However, unrestrained winter weight gain isn’t inevitable. In fact, scientific studies show that metabolism (a critical determinant of our weight) actually speeds up in cold weather, which generates extra body heat and means burning extra calories. Contrary to popular belief, we actually gain weight in spite of the cold weather, not because of it! So, what exactly can we do to ensure we keep our weight on track during winter?
Increase Non-Food-Based Pleasure
Oxytocin is our pleasure hormone – it regulates many physiological responses including metabolism and eating behaviors. Oxytocin is believed to play a significant role in satiety, which can help people to know when they are full and satisfied to avoid overeating. We have the ability to elevate our own oxytocin levels through creating/participating in our own pleasurable activities be it; walking the dog, taking a bath, dancing, hugging, or surprising someone with a random act of kindness. Participating and seeking out healthy pleasure has a positive response on our brain chemistry. In winter, it is easy to let some activities that give us joy slip by the wayside. Couching it rather than catching up with friends? Got the winter blues so avoiding exercise? To help prevent seasonal weight gain, be mindful of the effect that winter can have on our desire to seek out joyful experiences potentially sans sun! In conjunction with a healthy, balanced diet, treating yourself to non-food-based treats is important. That’s not to say some chocolate, cake, or a hearty red wine here and there is not part healthy of a balanced diet, just a reminder that we should be mindful of including other things that give us a sense of pleasure/satisfaction too. If we’re more conscious of behaviors or habits that chilly weather naturally incites, we may find the tendency to overindulge is less likely going to bite us in the behind come summer!
Upgrade Your Comfort Go-Tos
Enjoying food is a primal desire and one that should be embraced. However, there are ways to ensure we can, ahem, have our cake and eat it too, in the name of keeping a generally healthy diet for our wellbeing! Consider looking at your favourite comfort foods and thinking of some ways you can upgrade them into healthier versions, while still being satisfying. Love a good mash? Yum, so do I. Maybe look at switching kumara for potatoes every now and then for example (Sweet potatoes are also lower on the glycemic index, meaning that they are less likely than regular potatoes to make your blood sugar spike) Love hot chocolates in front of the fire? Maybe look at using raw cacao and switching to stevia to sweeten in place of sugar or honey. Love chocolate to accompany rainy day Netflix binges? Who doesn’t? Perhaps try and switch endlessly more-ish M&Ms for a few squares of quality dark chocolate. The list could go on, but if you feel like you need to keep your comfort food consumption somewhat under check this winter, consider substituting higher quality ingredients to upgrade the health value of your favorite comfort foods.
Have an Exercise Back-Up Plan
Wetter weather and shorter days mean there are fewer opportunities for varied physical activity. Getting in that daily exercise routine takes more careful planning. Always have a backup plan if the weather inhibits your workout in any way. No excuses!
Get Some Sun in Your Workouts
Daylight is nature’s best energizer, so despite the chill in the air throw on your trainers, rug up and continue to exercise outside whenever the weather plays nice! Several studies indicate that a lack of the ‘sunshine vitamin’ – Vitamin D – can contribute to gains in abdominal fat and can also potentially interfere with the production of the hormone leptin. Leptin is one of the hormones that tells your brain that your stomach is full (ie. you have had enough to eat). Vitamin D also contributes to our happiness, and the happier we are, the less likely we are to binge eat!
Up Your Water-Intake
We tend to drink less water in the cold weather. But actually, extra warm clothing and heated office environments mean we need to guzzle up the good stuff. Even mild dehydration can slow down body metabolism by as much as 3 % Dehydration also causes fatigue which means getting that workout in is extra hard work! Research suggests that there is a significant correlation between inadequate hydration and obesity.
It may traditionally seem winter is weighed against you and your diet goals but with some conscious discipline and a planned healthy eating regime, you can stay fit and trim ready for the dream of sweet summer days we hold onto when the chill sets in!