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Combating Winter Weight Gain

My wife has some common statements she makes about this time every year. Comments like, “My jeans always seem to shrink in the winter,” or, “Chocolate makes my clothes shrink.” And she reasons that “if heat makes things expand, I don’t have a weight problem, I’m just hot!” You notice that I say statements, not excuses. I know what’s good for me. It’s called by a number of different names like Winter Weight Gain, Holiday Spread, and Winter Padding. Many people just expect it, but I want to tell you that you can outsmart the season.

So what’s behind this seasonal corpulence? Well for one, we usually spend more time during winter on the sofa watching TV than we do at the park or the beach. With a change in schedule and activities comes less motivation to exercise and a tendency to just let it slide. Some people are also victims of the dreaded Seasonal Affective Disorder which may trigger a craving for carbohydrates that can amount to as much as 800 additional calories per day. Cold weather drives us indoors where metabolism slows, and dressing in more layers hides the extra pounds. Though winter weight gain may have its roots in biology, it is actually fueled by mood. In the winter months we tend to eat more out of boredom or mild depression than from actual hunger.


It is a sad reality that holiday foods are calorie intense because they’re fried, fat, processed, sugary, and to add to the curse, they’re everywhere. In winter, levels of melatonin increase in our system, making us more-drowsy and increasing our appetites, making us prone to emotional eating. With less exposure to sunlight, we have lower levels of vitamin D, which reduces the body’s ability to break down fat.

So, what’s the solution to this weighty problem? Is it inescapable? What can we do about it? The key is to stay active, eat quality not quantity, and elevate your mood by getting some sunlight. I do find it encouraging to know that cutting back on just 100 calories a day amounts to a weight loss of approximately 10 lbs in a year. It’s a fact that maintaining the ideal weight is much, much easier than having to get it back. It’s a principle of physics that coasting requires less effort and energy than accelerating. So, don’t allow yourself to slip too far.

Let me share a few non-scientific suggestions that have worked for others. Eat before you are really starving, which keeps you from craving, gorging, and binging. Drink a glass of water before and after each alcoholic beverage. This dilutes the calories and helps you consume less. If you need some extra Christmas Holiday motivation to not fall off the wagon, put on your swim suit each week and stand in front of a full length mirror. This may sound painful, but so revealing. Schedule, accept no excuses, and commit to daily exercise.

The harsh reality is that bigger snacks mean bigger slacks. Emmy Award winning stand-up comedian and food expert Janette Barber said, “When I buy cookies, I eat just four and then throw the rest away. But, first I spray them with Raid so I won’t dig them out of the garbage later. Be careful though, because that Raid really doesn’t taste that bad.”

Now, go out and enjoy the winter holidays.

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