Six Reasons You Gain Weight in the Winter

Next week is Halloween, and that officially starts the holiday season. Then comes the dreaded holiday 5-10 pounds.

Here’s the good news: it’s not totally your fault.

A study in 2016 out of the University of Exeter

showed that animals (including humans) eat more during the fall and winter, increasing body fat, because these are times of the year when food becomes scarce. If you’re a squirrel, this is great! You’ll make it to the spring. But since we don’t have a food scarcity, the signals our brains send us to stuff our faces is one of the reasons it’s so easy to gain weight. 

While you can’t control our human instincts, there are things you can avoid to keep the weight off. 

1: Lack of Movement

When the weather is nice, you’re more likely to spend a few hours gardening or doing chores around the house, or you might go do something active with friends or family. When the temperature starts to drop, instead of gardening, you might spend that time watching a movie.. If you’re with your friends, you’re more likely to go out to dinner or go to a bar for a few hours rather than do something active. 

Unfortunately, our appetites don’t adjust for this decrease in activity levels, so even if you’re eating the same number of calories, you might be “burning” 200-500 fewer calories per day (or more) because you’re not as active each day. That’s 1400-3500 fewer calories burned per week (or more) simply because you’re probably not walking or moving around as much. 

Solution: Intentionally move every single day. Get to the gym, go for walks, do yoga or mobility work for 15 minutes, or even just choosing to park far away from stores or using the stairs instead of the elevator are all ways to help you stay a little more active. If you enjoy being outside, get a group of friends together and go for hikes, walks, bike rides, etc this winter. Being in a group will help keep you accountable (GST Members: hikes with coach Chris will continue through the winter). 

Finally, buying the right clothing to be outside is important. Running or walking with proper attire isn’t bad when it’s 30 degrees outside, but miserable if you’re not prepared.

2: Holiday Foods

Halloween candy, Christmas cookies, pumpkin spice lattes, and tons of other holiday goodies are loaded with calories. That grande PSL has 480 calories and 50 grams of sugar in it, and you’re probably going to be eating something else along with that coffee (the tall isn’t much better at 400 calories). 

If you don’t think the few pieces of candy add up, I had a client tell me today that she had a few pieces of Halloween candy throughout each day this week. She decided to track the candy and found out it was an extra 500-600 calories per day she was eating without realizing it. 

Solution: I’m not going to be the Grinch and tell you that you can’t have any of these foods. Save your favorite foods for the actual holiday and avoid them at the office or other times during the week. If you absolutely can’t resist them, incorporate them into your diet by tracking calories and protein. You’re going to be having smaller meals if you do this, but you can still have a few Christmas cookies and not have it affect your waistline. 

3:Seasonal Food 

Even if you are only eating “healthy” foods, the foods we are drawn to, and what’s in season, are usually a little higher in calories.

Examples of this are swapping your raw vegetables and salads for cooked vegetables. Raw foods are harder to breakdown, so we absorb less calories from them. Cooking vegetables allows our bodies to get more calories (and nutrients, it’s not all bad) from the food. We also switch from having a tomato salad to roasted winter squash and root vegetables; these foods are higher in calories. While not a problem by themselves, we often think of these as vegetables and load them up with butter and sugar while also eating another starch source. To cook foods, you usually use oil to keep them from sticking to the pan. This also adds calories, so try and keep cooking oil to what a recipe recommends, because it’s easy to put twice the recommended amount on a pan of veggies you going to bake. 

Moving away from vegetables, most fall and winter dishes also incorporate fattier cuts of meat or adding fat to leaner meats (an example would be stuffing chicken or pork with cheese). This is only a bad thing if you don’t account for it. 

Solution: If you’re not tracking calories and you’ve started to change your diet to include more fall and winter meals, you should spend a couple weeks tracking on MyFitnessPal or a similar app. 

4: Alcohol

To be honest, most people probably drink just as much during the summer, but in winter we skip the lighter drinks like Victory Summer Love or a vodka club for some Golden Monkey or Spiked Hot Cider. And then you have eggnog or hot buttered rum and those are calorie nightmares. 

In general, these drinks are higher in calories and you’re probably not going to only drink one of them. Plus, you’re most likely going to be eating something with these drinks, and it’s probably not a salad.

Solution: Limit drinking to the weekends, and if you’re going to have a fall or winter cocktail or beer, try to only have one then switch to a lower calorie option. If you like to drink spirits on the rocks, those are the lowest calorie options at around 100 calories per shot (1.5 ounces) regardless of whether its vodka, gin, whiskey, brandy, etc. 

5: You’re Bundled Up

Fall and winter we start wearing thicker, baggier clothing. Baggier clothing hides the way we look and is more forgiving when we put on a few extra pounds. It’s not until the spring that we realize the jeans you bought last year are a little tighter than you remember. 

Solution: Whatever method you use to track progress, keep doing that on a consistent basis. It might be a weight scale, the InBody, or body measurements. Regardless, keep tracking at regular intervals and don’t skip when you’re supposed to do it because you had a “bad weekend.” When you skip measuring progress is when you start to go into denial about how much you’re falling off. Yes, I know it’s not fun to see the body fat creep up, but knowing that it’s up a half a percent is better than telling yourself “it can’t be that bad” and stepping on two months later to see it’s way worse than you thought. 

6: Energy Levels 

Lack of sunlight starts to affect everyone, and it slowly creeps up until everyone is acting like Oscar the Grouch in February. For most, it’s just a decrease in energy levels, but for others, it may develop into

Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D). 

Solution: Get as much natural sunlight as you can, which means getting outside when it’s cold. This might be hiking once or twice a week or taking your dog for a walk when it’s sunny out everyday for 15 minutes. 

Supplementing with vitamin D may help maintain your energy levels. 2000-5000 IU per day is a good start for most people. I like

Chris Masterjohn’s approach

to take vitamin K with your D supplement. 

Finally, getting a “wake up” light and other lights made to help with S.A.D may help improve your energy levels. From personal experience, the wake up lights make it much easier to get out of bed for those early morning gym sessions when it’s cold and dark out. I own the Verilux Wake Up Light and Happy Light. If you think you or someone you know does have S.A.D, see a doctor to get diagnosed. 

It’s very easy to gain weight this time of year.From lack of exercise and energy, to overindulgence in food and alcohol,it can be tough to keep moving forward with your goals. Being consistent with your workouts, tracking your food intake, and measuring your progress on a regular basis will help you stay on track so you don’t have to do the typical “get ready for the beach” diet come this spring.