5 tips for avoiding winter weight gain

Here we go again.

It’s that time of year when energy levels wane while appetites and food cravings gear up for winter. As spring approaches and many people take stock of their weight, all too often, they blame holiday eating as the culprit for any extra pounds accumulated over the winter. But in fact, the slow rise in weight frequently begins right now, after we switch our clocks back to standard time and experience more hours of darkness during our waking hours. It’s time to hibernate — or at least, many of us certainly feel like it. Take heart, though, with some smart strategies you can weather winter in peak shape with plenty of energy to spare.

First a little background on the link between appetite regulation and the seasons. In summer, hot temperatures can lead to diminished appetites and weight loss. Unfortunately, nowadays we can spend too many hours in air-conditioned environments so we frequently don’t reap the benefits of any sweltering days. In winter, while it may seem that colder temperatures are responsible for the desire to eat more, it’s not the case. You can be sitting inside all toasty and warm while watching sleet coming down outside. Does a light meal of just salad appeal? Likely not. Chances are that you could really go for comfort food – heavier fare like a steaming bowl of soup or stew.

A lack of daylight, not cold temperatures, is what’s responsible for winter appetites and hibernation – the slowing down of calorie burning capacity while increasing food consumption. Animals like bears are known for packing on fat before they sleep away the winter. Extra fat, particularly the kind that’s known as brown fat or brown adipose tissue (BAT), supplies the calories for shivering which can help to maintain normal body temperatures during this period of cold weather. The problem is that we don’t shiver our way though the winter.

In the past, when people put on a few pounds over the winter, they naturally took it off during a long hot summer. Well, now because we’re not dropping weight from the heat of summer, we can’t afford to put on winter weight. It simply accumulates each year, raising the risk of a host of chronic diseases.

Here are a 5 tips to help you avoid the hibernation trap:

Eat regularly through the day
Along with an increased appetite and fatigue, cravings for carbohydrates can go hand in hand with shorter days. To keep these cravings at bay, eat regularly through the day – at least every three to four hours. It’s also a way to keep metabolic rates up as having small amounts of food through the day has been shown to boost calorie burning.

Go for balance
Meal imbalance – too little protein or carbohydrate – can also lead to cravings. To avoid a rollercoaster effect on blood sugar readings, be sure to include a slowly digested protein at breakfast and lunch. An egg or an ounce or two of lower-fat cheese, meat or fish at breakfast can go a long way in decreasing cravings and maintaining energy. Up the quantities at lunch and include fruit and/ or veggies at both.

Having too few carbohydrates may intensify seasonal cravings so don’t opt for a low-carb plan, especially at this time of year. Go for smart carbs such as whole grains over refined options. Pulses, such as lentils, chick peas and dried beans, and beans are super carb and protein-rich choices that can also help to stabilize blood sugar readings.

Go for hearty not heavy fare
This time of year calls for some scheming on your part to fool your body into thinking that you’re going along with the plan to pad your body with extra fat. Broth-based soups packed with plenty of vegetables are terrific for taking the edge off your appetite. To fill up on fewer calories, when making dishes like stews or chili, keep them lean and instead of loading them with lots of meat, boost the amount of vegetables. Or add a vegetable stew type dish, such as ratatouille, to your meal and observe its filling effects.

Don’t forgo exercise
Even if you’re dragging yourself around, go for regular workouts. That doesn’t mean that you need to hit the gym or use specialized equipment. A good brisk walk, outdoors if you like, inside a shopping mall or back and forth and up through the halls in an apartment building can fit the bill. Regular exercise revs metabolic rates or calorie burning capacity, resulting in your feeling more energetic. Sporadic exercise, though, can leave you somewhat tired.

See the light
In more extreme forms, this lack of daylight can cause depression – Seasonal Affective Disorder. But for many, besides affecting appetite and energy, a lack of sunlight can simply put you in a lousy mood. If possible, get outside and take in some daylight. If not, try to spend time near a bright window.

Tags: , , ,

Categories: Tips and Tricks, Weight Management

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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