By: Dr. Domenica Rubino
Why is winter so hard for maintaining weight (even after the holiday parties are over)? Food, mood and activity are all affected by the change in season.
On the average a person may gain 1-3 pounds, not the 5-7 often heard on the radio or seen in magazines. The problem is this new weight is typically maintained and every year this can add up.
Who is prone to weight gain? Research suggests that those who are biologically pre-disposed to weight gain and who may already be overweight may be more likely to gain weight. Men also seem to be at slightly greater risk compared to women.
The change in environment, cold, and darkness affects all of the key influences on weight—I mean who wants to go out for a walk when it is 30 degrees and dark? And for that matter, who wants a salad? So understanding that food, mood and activity are all vulnerable to the cold of winter can help you manage.
First step is recognizing that we are going to be seeking warm, savory, comforting foods. Time to drag out the crock pot-explore making soups and chili –a good way to add vegetables, flavor and volume.
Like a thicker soup? Try adding a beaten egg, yogurt or milk to make your soup creamier, or take a portion of soup out and use a blender or processor to thicken it up by adding some cooked beans and add back to the soup.
For added texture, add beans or grains to the soup that have protein and a lower glycemic index, such as farro or quinoa. In the winter, take the time to make roasted vegetables, especially ones with a thicker texture like the squashes or sweet potato. Experiment with different herbs and spices. Consider a cooking class.
Recognize any mood changes during this time of year. Some individuals are very sensitive to the lack of sunlight and can feel down or depressed during this time period. If you have a history of seasonal affective disorder, consider light therapy. Some individuals with depression may need their medication altered during the winter. Check your vitamin D levels and make sure that they are normal.
Since many of us are less active during the winter, this can be a trigger for worsening mood. Research supports the effectiveness of being active in promoting better stress management and mood. Be aware of feeling lonely. Get together with friends and maintain a social group. Consider volunteering or following up on an interest of hobby through classes where you can meet others with similar interests.
The change in season often disrupts our activity routine. Consider having a winter plan—come up with something different just for the winter (check out our tips below). Try out different activities, consider taking a class where it is warm and there are people around. Walking is still the easiest for most to do just about anywhere. Try bundling up and taking a 10-15 minute walk every day. If it is icy out, be safe and walk at the mall or escape to the museum (free in DC!); try a video at home or take a class at the rec center.
So remember, winter does present unique challenges, but by being more in tune with these factors it can help support weight loss or weight maintenance goals.