5 Reasons Winter Is Making You Fat
Here’s how to get through the season without packing on the kilos
Winter is a hard season to like: You’re cold, mopey, and if you work a regular schedule, you probably feel like you haven’t seen the sun in months. Your whole office has been sneezing and croaking, and to throw the cherry on top, you might notice your pants can’t button, or your favourite sweater is stretching just a bit tighter across your midsection. So go ahead and blame winter for your growing gut. Here are five reasons the crappy season might be causing your weight gain—and what you can do to fight back.
CAUSE OF WINTER WEIGHT GAIN: YOU AVOID THE OUTDOORS
As the temperature drops, so does your motivation to move, says John Raglin, Ph.D. an exercise researcher. Once you’re home for the night, do you really want to take a trip back outside to head to the gym? So chances are, you’re not logging in as many weekly workouts as you were before it got so cold. And even if you do make an effort to hit the gym regularly, you’re probably spending more time inside when you’re not working out. Think of all the time you spend in the summer walking your dog or just strolling along sightseeing. All that movement adds up to more daily activity, meaning you were burning a lot more calories then than you are when you’re just killing time with nightly Netflix binges, Raglin explains.
Plus, when you’re cooped up indoors in front of your TV, you’re at greater risk of mindless snacking, says Men’s Health nutrition advisor Alan Aragan, M.S. And you’re probably choosing junk: In fact, one Portuguese study found that people who watched more than 120 minutes of TV per day—just one after-work flick—were significantly ate more fat and less fruits and vegetables, he adds. So go outside, even if it’s just for a little bit, suggests Raglin. Try making a pact with a buddy to hold each other accountable. Take a quick walk once a day during lunch or even start doing a winter sport together. It’s a simple way to incorporate more daily activity and boost your energy levels, Raglin says.
CAUSE OF WINTER WEIGHT GAIN: YOU CAN’T RESIST PARTY FOOD
From rugby parties to extravagant Valentine’s Day dinners, food-based holidays are a big thing. And even if you try to watch what you’re eating throughout the week, you might completely veer off course once a weekend full of parties hits, says board-certified sports dietitian Marie Spano, R.D., C.S.C.S. That’s a problem: Your calorie intake needs to be balanced throughout the week if you want to maintain or lose weight, she says. So constantly treating yourself on these special occasions can do more damage than you think.
But you don’t want to be a buzz kill and stay home either, so you probably will find yourself surrounded by tables full of all kinds of delicious snacks. The bad news is, most of these are going to be loaded with empty calories, she says. Plus, research suggests that you tend to down more food when you’re around lots of people, says Aragon, which can lead to eating more than you would otherwise. Your best bet is to plan ahead for these gatherings—but don’t worry, we’re not going to tell you to eat at home first. (Where’s the fun in that?) What you should do, though, is to fill your plate accordingly. Load up on foods rich in fiber, like fruits and vegetables, and protein, like deviled eggs or cold cuts like chicken and ham. This trick will help you stay fuller longer, so you’re not tempted to hit up the dessert table for seconds when you’re done.
CAUSE OF WINTER WEIGHT GAIN: YOU REACH FOR COMFORT FOOD
Not only is winter depressing, it can spike your stress levels, too, says Richard Weil, M.Ed., the director of the weight loss programme at the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center. You’re constantly running late because well, it’s harder to get up in the morning, your energy bills have skyrocketed, and your winter cold can cause work to pile up. So you might turn to food for comfort, he says. Past research suggests that consuming salt can actually decrease the amount of stress hormones, like cortisol, in the brain. Plus, your oxytocin levels—the feel-good hormone associated with pleasure and comfort—spike. Sugar can have a similar effect, too. So it’s no surprise that many of the foods we reach for when we’re stressed are calorie bombs.
Your move? Give in to your comfort-food craving—within reason. Having a little of it once in a while can actually help you avoid binging on those foods later, says Keri Gans, R.D., author of The Small Change Diet. Just make sure it doesn’t make up a bulk of your plate, she says. Aim to eat a balanced meal: We recommend letting protein take center stage, supplemented with one side of vegetables and one side of yor favourite comfort food.
CAUSE OF WINTER WEIGHT GAIN: YOUR MOOD TAKES A HIT
As the days become shorter and darker, you might feel more depressed, explains Weil. It’s called seasonal affective disorder, and it’s characterized by the fatigue, irritability, and depressed mood you might feel during the winter months. And that’s bad news for your gut: When you feel depressed, anxious, or irritable, you tend to make up for it by eating more, says Weil. And research shows that you may tend to reach for more sugary, starchy foods too, which are often higher in calories.
If food doesn’t help you feel better, you might turn to booze to boost your mood even more, he says. That can mean a load of extra calories—for instance, just two cans of beer can cost you an extra 920 kilojoules. If you do that daily, you could be taking in 6401 extra kilojoules each week. Plus, research suggests drinking alcohol can mess with your cravings and actually cause you to eat more high-fat, savory foods more than you would. But the good news is, you can get out of your winter funk—follow these tips on how to survive the rest of winter without feeling miserable.
CAUSE OF WINTER WEIGHT GAIN: YOUR SLEEP SCHEDULE SUFFERS
When your mood takes a dive, you might also have trouble sleeping, according to research from the University of Pittsburgh. In fact, if you’re struggling with seasonal affective disorder, you might spend more time resting or relaxing in bed without actually sleeping, similar to insomniacs, the researchers say. And even if you’re not dealing with these disorders, you still might feel like you need to sleep more during the winter months, even though your actual need for sleep doesn’t increase, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
Not getting enough sleep, or getting too much of it by lounging in bed all morning, can throw off your body’s circadian rhythm, your body’s internal clock that controls sleep cycles. That’s bad news for your waistline: Research suggests that messing up your sleep schedule can reduce your levels of the satiating hormone leptin, which can boost your appetite and lead to weight gain. As hard as it may be to fight the urge to lay on the couch all day, making the effort to get up and move will help stick to a more regular sleep schedule.
Originally published on menshealth.com