Seasonal Weight Gain: What Can You Do?

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Although my weight fluctuates three to five pounds within one day, it also fluctuates seasonally.  In the winter I tend to carry about five pounds or so more on average than I do in the summer. Although this can be frustrating, I’ve come to realize that it is natural to some extent and that it is a cycle that I need to accept.

Chances are, I’m not alone.  Many people gain weight when daylight hours diminish and cold weather sets in.  Some doctors even believe that we have little control over this phenomenon, and that humans are programmed to gain weight when it gets cold. In an interview with Prevention magazine, Dr. Lawrence Cheskin, founder of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center, stated “Your body may be working against you to hang on to it so you stay warm.”  So why is this so and what can you do about it?:

  1. Food Choices: During the winter, we tend to eat more ‘comfort’ foods that are higher in fat and contain less than healthy ingredients.  Foods like french fries, ribs and chili tend to feel more comforting than salad, fresh fruit and grilled fish. What you can do: Look for recipes that use fruits and vegetables that are in season during winter months: kale, squash, onions, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and citrus. Also incorporate soups that are either broth or vegetable based instead of those with creams to warm you up.  Lastly, aim to stay away from fried foods and try baking options (potatoes for instance).
  2. Lack of Sunlight: Decreased exposure to sunlight can have a tremendous affect on our mood, and as a result, we eat foods that tend to be rich in carbs, fats and sugars, which make us feel better.
    What you can do: Expose yourself to sunlight regularly.  Although the cold might be a deterrent, bundling up and getting outside into the sun will do your mood wonders.
  3. Reduced Activity Level: When it is cold outside, we do everything possible to stay inside.  Further, activities like staying in bed, buried under the covers or on the couch snuggled up in a blanket is a lot more appealing than running on the treadmill or for that matter, outside.
    What you can do: Try finding new activities that are winter appropriate.  Whether it be cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or ice skating, work with the season, not against it.
  4. Results on Your Metabolism: Although there isn’t significant evidence that temperature has a great affect on our metabolism, our activity level does.  Specifically, when our activity level is reduced, our metabolism slows.
    What you can do: Strength training, in particular, is very important to keeping your metabolism high, as the more muscle mass you have the more calories you burn.  Aim to do strength training two to three times a week to keep your metabolism revved.
  5. Less Skin Exposure: Piling on layers of warm clothes during the winter allows us to hide extra weight more easily.  Unlike summer months, where we are dawning bathing suits on a regular basis, we don’t have to worry about what we look like with 3 or 4 extra layers.
    What you can do: As silly as this may sound, try on bathing suits, sleeveless shirts and summer dresses every couple of weeks.  Visualizing yourself in summer gear can help keep you on track.

Do you experience seasonal weight gain?  What have you done to help combat it?

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