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Winter Weight is Real

Yes, you read that correctly. That extra weight that seems to sneak up on you after six or more weeks of extreme cold has a scientific explanation and historical significance. Our ancestors, the ones from thousands of years ago, had two options for getting food: hunt or gather. Many of them did both. These two options meant working outdoors from sunrise to sunset, either migrating constantly for fresh resources, or settling into one space and working the land. Being active wasn’t just an admired lifestyle; it was necessary.

During these earlier times, it was a lot more challenging to collect and store food for more than days at a time. So if a blizzard left someone trapped in a cave, their body would feed off of fat until resources were available. Then, when extreme cold hit again, all meals were processed with the goal of storing fat to prepare for the next big fasting/starvation period.

Fast forward to our present day, and our bodies still react to extreme cold by storing fat. The big difference is many of us do not need to forage and hunt to eat. So our metabolisms are naturally slower than our ancestors, even before the cold weather arrives. When the temperatures drop, so do our metabolisms. I feel it every year, right around early November, when the first “coat-worthy” day comes and chaps my hands and lips. Then my clothes may start to get a bit tighter for a while. In years past, I would get down on myself, overexercise, and undereat. But that got old fast. So I started researching healthier ways to address the issue. Here’s what I found:

  • In cold weather, we become less active, drink less water, are more inclined to seek comfort food, and absorb less vitamin D. And vitamin D does a ton, including decreasing inflammation and bloating, and increasing mood. (Stay tuned for my post about Vitamin D.)

  • These factors slow the metabolism, which leads to weight gain, dubbed “winter weight.”

  • Most weight gain happens in December as a result of our “survival instincts kicking in.” We eat heavier and drink more around the holidays. We experience SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression caused by a chemical change in the brain that happens with a lack of sunlight.

Now I’ve told you the urge you have to eat more and move less in the winter is not just laziness and gluttony; it’s genetics. Yay! But wait…does that mean we should just eat up and relax? If those are your goals, I won’t steer you any other way. But if you’d like to stay fit in the winter, or at least have less weight to lose in the spring, here are some methods that will help:

  • Drink warm, clear liquids. They go down easier than cold liquids in the winter, help maintain body temperature and stimulate blood circulation. They also tend to have less calories, carbs, and fat than cream based liquids. All of these factors help boost your metabolism so you can burn fat easier.

  • Practice indoor activities. I love going to the gym as much as the next person. The other attendees fuel my competitive nature. But when it’s too cold to go out, I need at-home options. Pilates is great, of course. (Hint hint.) All you need is space and a thick, supportive surface. You can also dance and do circuit training with weights in most places.

  • Limit processed food and go for simple carbs, lean proteins, and sugars instead.

Stop. Read this next statement very carefully: Enjoy your holiday season, however that looks for you. Enjoy deep-fried turkey, mac and cheese, candied yams and sweet potato pie. I do. But do it in moderation, with an end date for the indulgent eating. When that date comes, flip the script with a healthy reboot. Think salmon, seeds, leafy greens, berries and whole grains. And homemade soup can be your best friend.

  • Go outside, when you can, in as many layers as you need. I am a late spring baby. My body thrives in the warmth. When it’s colder than 50 degrees, I have to coach myself to be active outside with lots of coats, scarves and sets of boots and gloves. And I’m not a fan of being in the snow. But playing in the snow and taking walks all bundled up on above freezing days are great ways to stimulate your metabolism. Use discretion. No snowball fights in the middle of a blizzard.

  • Get on a sleep schedule. A lack of sleep leads to a slower metabolism because, again, your body thinks it’s in danger. Try this experiment on your off days. Write down what time you naturally get tired and rest your head for the day, then what time you wake up without any type of alarm (kids and partners included). How many hours did you rest? Use that amount of time to come up with a bedtime and wake-up time that gets you closer and closer to 7-8 hours per night. Refrain from falling asleep in front of a screen by powering down your devices 30 minutes before bed. It’s tricky, but it makes a difference.

  • Opt for 5-6 smaller meals a day. Big meals are harder to process with a slower metabolism. Intermittent fasting, which I usually practice, can be interpreted by the body as a lack of resources (think of your ancestors), so fat storage goes up. Try liquid-based foods such as applesauce, non-dairy yogurt and smoothies at the start and end of the day, with slightly bigger meals of lean meat, whole grains and leafy greens in the middle. Talk to your doctor and nutritionist for specific amounts. They will use your blood work to determine what you need.

Want to know and see more? Please click the “Let’s Chat” or “Contact Ageless Method” button, and I’ll share details about the virtual Ageless Winter Survival Workshop. We’ll go over more facts, answer questions and demonstrate effective ways to move in the winter.


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