21 May Dreading gaining extra weight in winter?
The impending return to the office is near and it brings with it the looming reality; forgiving activewear must be replaced by suits and corporate dresses. You’ve likely been inside more than usual and the emergence from our homes post-pandemic seems to be coinciding with cooler months. This means we are spending more time indoors than ever before. So, as the months get colder and we return to normal, should we be social distancing ourselves from our fridges?
Every year as the winter months roll around, we begin to eat more home-cooked, indulgent meals, drink more wine, and spend a lot more time indoors. The weather continues to cool down and we become more sedentary – but does winter mean we will begin adding extra weight? Does the cold really affect what we eat?
History shows us that weight fluctuations over different seasons are normal and quite predictable. If we didn’t have access to technology advancements like reverse cycle air conditioners, very bright lighting in our homes and toasty fireplaces, we’d likely pack on a layer of winter coat for the cold months while we go into hibernation. However, because of our modern conveniences, the layers of extra fat are not inevitable and shouldn’t be a part of our yearly weight fluctuation.
What does the research say?
Research hasn’t been able to paint a precise picture of what happens to our bodies over time. One study took data from 593 participants and followed them throughout the seasons changes through the course of a year. The study reported that although people ate more in Autumn and worked out less in winter, bodyweight changes were quite small – fluctuations were only between 500g – 2kg. This study, although helpful, wasn’t able to tell us if the change in weight was actually due to body fat or another physiological change like water retention, muscle gain, or something else entirely.
The studies also haven’t been able to show concisely that we eat more during the cooler months. Some studies report large increases in food intake, and others don’t see any significant changes.
We often describe feeling more hungry during winter – and research has been able to explain this somewhat by showing that some people may experience a drop in serotonin levels in winter which makes them reach for more carbohydrate-heavy foods. These people also tend to eat their meals quicker in cooler temperatures and also feel hungrier after their meals in winter than they would in summer. This might help to explain why we feel like we need to eat more (and heavier) comfort foods during the cooler months.
Another reason why we might think we gain weight is that we tend to think our activity levels drop. A US-based study that took data from more than 550 participants in 2006 was able to show, although minor, there were some reductions in physical activity – with winter being the season that people seemed to exercise the least. Although there may be some variation in exercise and food consumption, the overall effect throughout all studies has been relatively small. It is more likely that our social cultures and cold-month myths are feeding into this idea more than any physical evidence is able to show. It is important then, not to use the winter months as an excuse to start eating more and exercising less.
In order to stay healthy and avoid packing on kilos as the cooler months arrive try our tips:
Eat more in-season fruits and vegetables.
Try to incorporate fruits and vegetables in all meals and eat a variety of colours and textures to get all of your daily nutrient recommendations.
Keep track of your portion sizes. Keeping your meal sizes smaller by using a smaller plate, or filling up most of the plate with vegetables.
Avoid drinking too many calories.
Beverages that are high in sugar, alcoholic drinks and tea and coffee with added sugar and milk all pack in a lot of calories. Try to make better drink choices to avoid additional calories.
Trying to get in enough movement when it’s cold outside can be difficult but try an indoor activity, increase your incidental exercise by taking the stairs and being sure to get out of your chair often.
Keeping healthy isn’t just a summer thing – we should aim to keep these habits up year-round and then we don’t have to panic about adding extra weight during winter.