Why its SO easy to gain weight in Winter + 4 ways to avoid it.
Updated: Apr 3
Its that time of the year where we want to get home as quickly as we can, out of the cold and into our snug PJs, fluffy socks, switch on the heater, and relax in front of the screen.
Thing is, many people find themselves losing motivation to eat healthy. Theres something about gloomy dark days that make people less enthusiastic to get on with their usual routine.
I’ve made a video on What Seasonal Depression is, and what to do about it here
Not only this, people find themselves gaining a few extra kgs (and we’re not talking lean muscle, we’re talking weight around the tummy and thighs!
WHAT MAKES PEOPLE GAIN WEIGHT?
Here are a few possible reasons why people tend to gain more weight during the colder months
Low motivation and poor energy levels
Winter means shorter day light, longer nights, and LESS sunlight. What happens when we have inadequate sunlight exposure? Our Vitamin D levels drop. Vitamin D is crucial for immune function, Mental Health, Gut Health, energy production, bone health and so much more.
As most people work indoors, risk of Vitamin D deficiency is higher. Walking from their car to work (and back), may be the only daylight exposure they get!
>> Get your Vitamin D levels tested with a simple blood test from your GP.
You’re looking for levels between 100-120mmol/L (NOT at or below 50mmol/L).
If it is low, supplement correctly with Vitamin D3, Vitamin K2 & Magnesium (please consult with your healthcare practitioner).
People want to stay indoors
Since its cold out, people choose to stay warm and comfortable indoors. That's fair enough! However, if we’re unprepared, have no food available, and we’re already tired; we’re more likely to purchase take away food.
Modern technology has made it exceptionally simple to order food via an app on your phone, online or calling. You place an order, pay electronically, and either pick up or get it delivered to your door so you don’t have to part ways with your beloved “Stranger Things”. Not having to work for food, along with reduced physical activity and meal delivery is a Train destined for Weight Gain City.
Resorting to comforting foods high in calories, mainly in processed carbs and fat.
Most take away foods are overwhelmingly palatable, and for a good reason..
From working in hospitality and learning Food Science, I’ve discovered real life truths.
Hospitality is a business. You choose to support a business by spending YOUR money on their products. Most ingredients are cheap when purchased in bulk such as grains. You can purchase a stir fry chicken and vegetables on steamed rice for approximately $14-$17, where the produce cooked at home can be:
500g chicken breast= $9 + Vegetables = $4 + Rice= $1
BUT you get 2-3 meals instead of just ONE if you cooked at home.
All I'm saying is that, these food places care about PROFIT and returns. They don't care about you not fitting into your skinny jeans.
Additionally, we understand how delicious food combining is. Think processed carbohydrates (wheat bread, pasta, rice) combined with inflammatory vegetable and seed oils. Sugar is commonly added to sauces and marinades since sweetness overrides fullness signals. Dishes can be heavily salted & seasoned with MSG, food additives, and even flavour enhancers. Can't forget the crispy battered and deep fried sides too!
Its tasty, ADDICTIVE (giving us a pleasurable Dopamine hit), and easy to overeat.. because it works! See how in my blog here.
Be mindful of your ingredients and the cooking method, you might be surprised.
Adaption to warm indoor climate
A 2012 study reported a decrease in energy expenditure in warm indoor environment. The human body adapts to cold temperatures by increasing its thermogenic activity, to ultimately generate / burn energy as heat. As modern times advance, we are more comfortable and warmer for long periods during Winter.
Brown Adipose Tissue (BAT) generates more energy, and is found in higher amounts in human newborns. Importantly, BAT is created and maintained with cold climates, where the increase in thermal comfort may lead to loss of BAT and thermogenic capacity (1).
WHAT CAN I DO TO PREVENT WINTER WEIGHT GAIN?
1. EAT ENOUGH PROTEIN
Many clients think they’re eating too much, but they’re usually eating TOO LITTLE of the RIGHT foods. However they are right. TOO MUCH processed foods eg. pastries, bread, cakes, biscuits, hot chips etc, and not enough essential nutrients that KEEP YOU FULL and help you stop eating naturally.
Increase your protein intake. Protein is the most satiating macronutrient and requires energy to break down and absorb. Protein increases the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF), that accounts for 10-15% of total energy expenditure, so you burn calories just by eating (2)!
>> Focus on quality protein such as fish, eggs, poultry, red meat, organic tempeh or firm tofu.
Give it a try and see how you feel.
2. HYDRATE WITH LOW CALORIE DRINKS
Its tempting to warm up with high sugar/ fat drinks such as a Venti Caramel Macchiato from Starbucks. Even a chai latte, or other creamy drinks can have added sugar from syrups. If you don’t want to gain weight quickly, avoid these drinks.
Instead, opt for herbal teas such as lemon and ginger, Chamomile, and Rosehip. Many herbal teas also have added Medicinal benefits, such as peppermint and ginger for sluggish digestion.
3. FIND WAYS TO STAY ACTIVE
Not only to combat Seasonal Depression but also needed in maintaining body weight. Physical activity is WONDERFUL to help uplift mood and alleviate built up stress (we don't want it to bubble over, making us do something silly).
Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) is energy burnt doing unintentional physical movement such as walking, cooking, cleaning, fidgeting and standing .NEAT is highly modifiable and adds toward our total energy expenditure. Studies have found low levels of NEAT are associated with obesity (2).
NEAT accounts for up to 15% total energy expenditure
To increase our NEAT:
-Park your car further away from the station (or work) and walk
-Take the stairs instead of the lift
-Go for a walk during your lunch break
-Stand and do work as much as you can
-Walk your dog or make “White Space” for yourself by walking to your local park, listening to a podcast or your favourite tunes!
4. IDENTIFY AND ADDRESS COMFORT EATING
Had a stressful day at work?
Boss getting on your nerves?
Someone overstepped a boundary?
It’s tempting to go for foods that make us feel good. In fact, there's a chemical reaction that makes us feel good SHORT TERM. You get a rush of Dopamine, making everything seem “Okay” again. For more info on how foods can make us feel, I’ve written about “Food Addiction” here.
Understand that smashing a large packet of chips, or family pizza is not the answer. What has caused you pain has not been resolved. You’ve only masked your discomfort with food. After indulging, people feel bloated, regret, and WORSE than when they ate.
We tend to lean towards comfort foods such as lasagna, pasta, pizza, or curries. They are warming, creamy, and oh so COMFORTING.
Its perfectly fine to choose these foods, just know you can make them at home with a healthy twist!
Swap lasagne sheets with eggplant slices
Swap pasta with pulse pasta
Swap regular rice with cauliflower rice
This way you satisfy your tastebuds whilst enjoy a healthy version.
If in a low mood: Ask yourself what your health priorities are and whether the next decision is based on emotion. Become aware and note what possible triggers make you feel this way. You can either choose to eat said food item, OR find an alternative that alleviates stress / emotional pain. This is where Mindful Eating can be extremely helpful in breaking bad food relationships.
I hope you’ve gained insight and helpful strategies to prevent Winter weight gain this year.
If you do, don’t beat yourself up. Its natural, and apart of our mammal survival mechanism that keep us warm and alive during Winter. As long as we don’t gain too much too quickly :)
Do you tend to gain weight during Winter?
What are your go to strategies in preventing excess weight gain?
Until next time,
~ Bonny. C
1. Mavrogianni, A., Johnson, F., Ucci, M., Marmot, A., Wardle, J., Oreszczyn, T., & Summerfield, A. (2013). Historic variations in winter indoor domestic temperatures and potential implications for body weight gain. Indoor and built environment, 22(2), 360-375.
2. Chung, N., Park, M. Y., Kim, J., Park, H. Y., Hwang, H., Lee, C. H., ... & Lim, K. (2018). Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT): a component of total daily energy expenditure. Journal of exercise nutrition & biochemistry, 22(2), 23.
Image A. retrieved 5th Aug 2019 from https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Components-of-total-daily-energy-expenditure-TDEEBMRbasal-metabolic-rate_fig1_260397860