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How to avoid “winter weight” (weight gain in the winter)

Updated on February 26, 2007

Winter Weight

If you have the tendency to put on a few extra pounds in the winter months, you are not alone. Many people find that their weight fluctuates with the seasons. The cold weather offers lots of excuses to skip workouts, which can result in a sluggish metabolism. The lack of fresh fruit and vegetables may leave you snacking on leftover holiday cookies instead. And less daylight may be affecting your mood, furthering your inclination to hibernate. The key to keeping the pounds off in the in the winter is realizing what causes you to put them on so you can change your behavior, and avoid the winter weight.

Why Do We Gain More Weight in the Winter?

We can blame it on our ancestors from the Stone Age, they welcomed extra body fat in the winter to keep warm, and now those same genes cause our bodies to work against us in the winter months when we are trying to lose weight. "It's your survival instinct kicking in", says Lawrence Cheskin, MD, founder of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center in Baltimore. But there are other factors working against us as well. Take fashion for instance, big heavy sweaters and long pants of winter often make us a lot less conscience of our bodies than the little bikinis of summer do. Many people make a big effort to lose weight for the summer but resign themselves to regaining it during the winter. The weather is also a big factor, not only do cold, icy mornings cause us to miss gym appointments, but we are more apt to drive somewhere than walk there in the cold, and more apt to sit on the couch and watch television than do something outside. The common foods of winter do not help either; most of us eat big hearty meals rather than the lights foods of summer, and when fresh fruits and vegetables aren't available we reach for the leftover snacks of the holidays.

What We Can Do To Avoid It

There are three key elements to avoiding winter weight. The involve giving your mental state a boost, staying physically active during the winter, and picking out the right food to control your appetite and avoid calorie loading.

(1) Get your Mind Energized

With all the bright colors, blooming plants, and sunshine of summertime it is easy to keep our minds energized, but in the cold dreary months of winter we often fall into a lull. To counteract this change in mood we often resort to eating too many calories and carbohydrates, which tend to lift our mood, but have a negative effect on our waistline. Studies have found that our emotional state has a direct result on our weight. A little sunshine will increases levels of the serotonin in our brains, which may help calm your food cravings. So even if it is cold out, try and get yourself outside, even just a quick walk can boost your mood and help with weight loss. If you absolutely can't get out in the sunshine, trying doing something creative such as dancing to some music, painting, or singing.

(2)To Boost Your Activity

We need to make more of an effort in the winter to stay active than in the summer because there isn't as much offered to us. In the summer there are picnics with volleyball, or walks in the park, and community softball leagues. It is easy to get involved and stay active without giving it much thought, but all of that isn't offered to us in the winter, so we need to get creative. You could try some snowy sports such as cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, or ice skating, or you could try joining a gym. If cold weather sports aren't for you and you fear going to the gym in the wintery weather try buying some small weights and a workout video you can do in your home. Find activities in your home that keep your metabolism revved up, perhaps cooking or painting, anything but sitting on your couch. Studies have found that if we are less active during the winter then not only will our calorie needs be less (cause us to gain weight even if we are eating the same amount as we were in the summer), but we also may undergo hormonal changes due to lower levels of the mood changing chemical serotonin. (This is because exercise tends to boost our serotonin levels). So not only will be not be losing those extra calories, but the decrease in serotonin will cause your metabolism to be greatly lowered.

(3)Control your Appetite

Your grocery store isn't going to be filled with the wonderful low-cal snacks of summer like watermelon and fresh berries, but there are some great treats that winter offers, including Florida oranges and acorn squash. Try being creative with your fruit and vegetable choices, the winter foods have a lot to offer. Restaurants menus often have hearty calorie loaded foods for the winter, try to go for something lighter on the menu, and avoid overloading on bread. When visiting friends for a get-together, eat a low-cal snack before you go so you don't overindulge on the calorie loaded finger-foods of the winter.

The Bottom Line

In the summer weight loss just comes easier to most of us, so in the winter we really need to make a plan and work hard at sticking too it. Think up creative ways of keeping yourself on track, perhaps try your bikini on once a week, or work on keeping fruit and vegetables in the house, or get some winter gear and go for a walk, no matter how cold! The bottom line is we just have to work harder in the winter... but when it comes to your health it is definitely worth it!

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