Winter brings cold temperatures and a strong desire to stay in and get cozy in the comfort of your home. Many people notice they put on a few pounds during winter. Then they strive to slim down to look their best on a beach in summer. The cycle continues. Winter doesn’t really have to be the season of gaining weight. You can slim down in winter, just like in any other season. In this post you’re going to see some of the most effective tips to lose weight in winter and why most people tend to gain weight during this time of the year.
Why do we gain weight in winter?
An average American gains one to two pounds over the winter months (1). Some people may gain even more than that. The question remains why it happens. A single reason behind winter weight gain doesn’t really exist. A combination of different factors plays a role. Before we focus on tips to slim down in winter it’s crucial to address the factors that make you put on a few pounds.
Higher calorie intake
Take a moment to compare how much you eat in warmer and colder months. Chances are high you eat a lot more over winter. Most people do. Colder temperatures are often an excuse for most of us to stay in and avoid activities, especially those that involve spending time outdoors. Most people eat several times during the night. In a way, humans have the instinctual tendency to “hibernate” or hide from the cold. Since the primitive reasons kick in, we feel the need to stock up on calories. For that reason, people consume about 200 additional calories a day over winter.
Increased production of sleep hormones
Days are shorter in winter which is why there is less sunlight. The lack of sunlight has an impact on our hormones, especially sleep hormones. Basically, decreased daylight encourages the pineal gland to produce more melatonin. The pineal gland is a small, pea-shaped gland in the brain. The primary function of this small gland is to produce melatonin, a sleep hormone.
The feeling of sleepiness in wintertime results in a lack of energy and motivation to be active. At the same time, higher melatonin levels also tend to increase appetite. As a result, you may find yourself eating more and moving less during colder months. If poorly controlled, these behaviors can lead to weight gain.
Metabolism tends to increase in winter (2) to burn more energy required for stabilizing the body temperature. That’s why the body requires more food to keep up with the extra energy demands.
But, isn’t faster metabolism meant to help us slim down? Generally yes. But in winter, this may translate to higher food intake. As you’re already aware, consuming more calories than you burn can lead to weight gain. In winter, people tend to eat more often than usual. While this may be normal to some extent, some people do have a tendency to overeat which increases the risk of gaining weight.
The winter season is when we indulge in comfort foods the most. Probably the only thing you want to do after work is to sit in front of the TV with your favorite food in your hands. Then you get to munch on something delicious while watching a movie or your favorite show. In winter, people usually have cravings for warm, comforting, and dense foods. Why? When the body is metabolizing foods it generates heat. As a result, the body naturally craves more food to help keep you warm.
Lack of activity
Most people are not motivated to exercise in winter. Studies confirm that physical activity levels decrease during this time of year (3). Shorter daylight, cold temperatures, sleepiness, and tiredness are just some of the plenty of excuses we have to avoid going to the gym. A combination of decreased physical activity levels and increased food intake results in weight gain.
Lack of sunshine
We’ve already mentioned the impact of shorter daylight on hormones above. But it’s also important to mention lack of sunshine can promote weight gain in winter through the impact on fat cells as well. A study from Scientific Reports found the fat cells that lie just beneath the skin shrink when exposed to blue light emitted by the sun. As a result, the cells don’t store as much fat. In a different situation, i.e. in winter when days are short, insufficient sunlight exposure could promote fat storage and contribute to typical weight gain some people experience during cold months (4).
How to Lose Weight in Winter
Reasons people gain weight in winter are numerous. But, we can bring them down to several factors such as increased food intake, decreased physical activity levels, and lack of motivation to remain active due to tiredness and enhanced sleepiness.
Although some people gain weight in winter you don’t have to wait for spring and warmer weather to slim down. Even if you haven’t gained weight in winter and just plan to start working out in spring to lose weight you’ll benefit from our tips below. You see, whether you’re overweight or just gained a few pounds recently, you can take the advantage of winter to work on weight loss. Scroll down to see how to make it happen.
1. Avoid fad diets
Fad diets are characterized by severe calorie restriction, a specific program to follow for a while, and complete avoidance of certain food groups. You can easily recognize fad diets. They take social media by storm and promise miraculous results. Fad diets always seem too good to be true. While people may lose weight with some of these diets, they tend to regain them shortly after they stop with the program. In other words, fad diets are unsustainable (5). Your goal is to lose weight and keep it off. For that reason, to lose weight in winter successfully, you need to avoid fad dieting.
2. Drink lukewarm water
Staying hydrated is crucial for our health and wellbeing regardless of the season. That being said, we tend to drink less water in winter. Why? An average person sweats less in winter, but the body still keeps losing moisture in cold weather. Without sweat as an indicator, we may not realize we need to drink water to replenish fluids.
Generally speaking, most people wait to feel thirst in order to drink some water. But, by the time you’re thirsty the body has already started experiencing some signs of dehydration. The first symptom of dehydration is a headache.
Water allows your body to function properly and it is also important for weight management and weight loss (6). To slim down, you need to drink enough water even though it’s winter. Many people fail to drink plenty of water during winter because they don’t want to feel cold. If you’re one of them, lukewarm water could be helpful.
Not only can lukewarm water keep you hydrated, but it also has the potential to support gut microbiota (7). Balance of gut microbiota is essential for gut health and digestion. This matters because a healthy gut can support your effort to slim down.
Drinking lukewarm water may stimulate blood circulation in the body by breaking down fat deposits. Additionally, lukewarm water will help you maintain body temperature.
You can drink lukewarm water on its own, or you can add a bit of lemon juice, mint leaves, grated ginger, and sip on a delicious, yet healthful glass of water.
If you can handle it in winter you may also want to drink cold water. Why? When you drink liquids colder than the body temperature, your body has to work to warm it up. In the process, you burn extra calories (8).
3. Spend time outdoor
Probably the last thing you want to do in winter is to spend time outside, but you should still do it. If you have a dog, you may want to consider walking it on your own instead of hiring a dog walker. And even if you don’t have a dog, you should still strive to go out for a walk every day. Why? Spending time outdoors in winter can, actually, help you slim down. A study from FASEB Journal found that exposing yourself to cold temperatures can encourage white body fat to act more like brown fat (9). You see, white body fat is a bad type of fat that causes inflammation and stores calories whereas brown body fat generates heat by burning calories.
When you’re trying to lose weight in winter it’s practical to strive to spend some time outdoors. But, you should not overdo it of course.
Okay, this may seem odd but hear us out. Shivering, which would happen when you’re outdoor, can help you slim down. About 10 to 15 minutes of shivering can burn as many calories as an hour’s worth of moderate exercise, evidence shows (10). How? It’s simple; shivering is a muscle contraction. So when you’re walking outside, you start to shiver and your muscles keep contracting. As mentioned above, you shouldn’t overdo it.
5. Exercise at home
Even though winter can deplete our energy levels and cause a lack of motivation to exercise, we should still strive to be more active. Regular exercise is important to steady weight loss. You don’t have to go to the gym to make it happen, especially now when we’re in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Home workouts can be equally effective. Pretty much everything you can do in the gym, you can also perform at home. Benefits of home workouts go beyond weight loss, but also extend to advantages such as (11):
- Low cost
- Ability to exercise at any time
- Opportunity to exercise at your own pace
To get the most out of exercise at home you need a few essentials such as an exercise mat, dumbbells, resistance bands, among other things to start.
The reason many people avoid home workouts is the lack of discipline. They fail to exercise regularly. One way to prevent that from happening is to write it down and schedule your workout. You may want to set up a reminder on your phone and write it down in a planner. Treat a home workout the same way you would a “regular” gym training session – something you shouldn’t postpone or avoid.
It will also help if you have a room or any kind of space in your room dedicated to exercise only. For example, it can be a corner, garage, any other place where you will store exercise items and work out regularly. You can also encourage your friends or household members to exercise with you.
6. Eat more fiber
As mentioned throughout this post, we tend to eat more during winter. Sometimes we feel hungry shortly after eating which can be a problem for persons who tend to overeat generally. Overeating is a major obstacle on the road to weight loss, especially in winter. Consumption of a high-fiber diet can help you combat this issue. Fiber suppresses appetite and helps you feel full for longer (12). As a result, you’ll decrease calorie intake and avoid overeating. Reduced calorie intake and regular exercise can support weight loss efforts this winter.
7. Don’t skip meals
A common mistake that most people repeat is skipping meals in an effort to slim down. Breakfast is the meal people tend to skip the most. The general notion is that the best way to combat overeating is to skip meals and starve yourself. However, the practice of skipping breakfast is associated with obesity (13). In other words, you can gain weight if you go down this road. Even as you’re trying to slim down in winter you should still have your meals regularly. Just control your portions and avoid eating too much.
Other Things To Do
Besides the above-mentioned tips for weight loss in winter, you may also want to try:
- Meal prepping (14)
- Cooking meals instead of going out to eat
- Avoid the “colorful” labels that present products as healthy, but they may not be. E.g. some low-fat foods can contain hidden sugars
- Control your intake of sweets and carbs
- Get enough sleep because sleep deprivation is associated with excess weight (15). As mentioned above, lack of daylight can disturb hormone levels and contribute to sleepiness during the day. If you get enough of sleep during the night, you could be well-rested the next day
Winters are lovely, but they may have not-so-lovely effects on your body. It’s not uncommon for people to gain weight in winter and the reasons behind that effect are numerous. Lack of physical activity, increased calorie intake, and hormonal imbalances are some of the many reasons. Fortunately, it’s possible to slim down in winter. All you need to do is to make simple, yet effective lifestyle adjustments. Our tips can help you lose weight in winter without jeopardizing your health. Remember, stay active and choose your food wisely.