Winter weight gain is something that happens to many people who live in climates with cold winters. If you track your weight you may notice that it’s harder to lose in the fall. It’s not your fault and it’s not a myth. Most people, even those of normal weight, gain a few pounds when the weather begins to turn cold. But it is possible to avoid winter weight gain.
To do this, we first need to understand what causes winter weight gain. There are two main factors. The first is a biological tendency that is carried in our genes and is there to help us survive in cold climates. Our bodies are simply programmed to store more fat as winter approaches. And we’re not the only ones. Most animals do this too.
It’s easy to see why when you think about it. More fat means more protection from the cold and more stored nutrients that the body can access if food is hard to find in the winter months. Our bodies don’t know that we can walk into a store and buy polar level winter clothing and any food we need, no matter what the weather is like outside.
In primitive societies, there was always plenty of food in the fall, the time when nuts, fruits and grains are ripe. It makes sense that we would feel hungrier at this time and crave ‘warming’ high carbohydrate foods that can easily be converted to fat and stored ready for the late winter and spring when plant-based foods are hard to find.
Hormonal changes caused by the shortening days are a second factor that can cause winter weight gain. These changes affect our eating habits as winter approaches.
It is well known that having less natural light can cause depression and low energy (SAD or seasonally affected depression). Most people who are overweight tend to eat more when they feel low. We also turn to food (especially refined carbohydrate foods like chips, chocolate, cake or white bread) for a fast energy boost when we feel tired. These foods cause blood sugar swings that lead to more lows and cravings.
Understanding all of this makes it much easier to avoid winter weight gain. We have a natural tendency to eat more and to eat the wrong foods at this time of year. We cannot expect to hold out against a biological need but we can be careful what foods we choose.
It’s fine to have high carbohydrate foods in the fall if that is what you crave (and as long as you are not on a low carb diet) but be sure to choose whole grains and starchy vegetables over sugar and refined carb foods. The fiber in brown rice, whole grain bread, pumpkin etc helps to slow down the absorption and keep our blood sugar stable.
At the same time, avoid winter weight gain by being careful not to take in any unnecessary fats. Don’t slaver butter thickly all over that whole grain bread or pumpkin, or smother your whole grain pasta in a cheese sauce. Choose low fat dairy products and use them sparingly.
And of course, it’s important to keep our exercise levels up. Primitive people would have gotten a lot less exercise in the cold winters, but we don’t have to rely on outdoor activities for our fitness. We can go to the gym or keep a stationary bike in the basement. That way, even if we eat a little more, we don’t have to let it settle on our waistlines. We can avoid that pesky winter weight gain easily.