For a lot of us, when it comes to fitness, the year follows a pretty predictable pattern. It starts with great intentions and goals. Maybe you plan to overhaul your diet and eating patterns. The fridge and pantry get cleared of any low-nutrition junk and gets replaced with complex carbohydrates, protein, fruit and vegetables. Maybe you even sign up for Maxine’s Challenge.
Then, at the end of the year, there’s the warming of the weather, and a realisation that you want to be fitter and healthier in the lead up to summer.
So what happens in between?
The loss of motivation from new year resolutions often lines up perfectly with shorter days, colder mornings and evenings and some ‘winter weight’ appearing.
So as we head into the colder months, let’s get into 10 ways to prevent unwanted winter weight, while still staying fit and healthy.1. Light it Up
Winter means shorter days. Rather than the long, lazy evenings where you can get home at 5 pm and still have a few hours of daylight for a run, a walk with the dog or a group fitness class, you have cold, dark evenings.
That’s also true in the morning – the sun doesn’t rise anywhere near as early. That makes getting out of bed a battle. And it’s not all psychological. Early morning light is actually proven to assist with energy production because it lines up with our evolution.
So to get that boost as the days get shorter, leave your bedroom curtains or blinds open so that any pre-dawn light filters in. Even better, set your alarm to give you time to go for a walk before breakfast. If you’re not into doing your ‘heavy’ exercise in the mornings, that’s fine, but just getting some additional light (and exercise) done in the mornings will help your energy production for the rest of the day.
2. Find Exercise That Works for You
In the summer months, going for a swim or an early morning run is something to look forward to as the warm air invites you outside. But in the dead of winter, low temperatures, rain and fog make the whole idea of leaving home less appealing.
Of course, some people thrive no matter what the weather (and if that’s you, well done!) But if the cold and wind of winter make it less likely you’ll get your exercise, then it’s time to think about adapting your plans. There’s no point setting yourself unrealistic goals since that only increases your chances of not hitting them. Look for alternatives that will still get your heart rate up and be a welcome ‘swap’ during the winter months, like group fitness challenges or indoor sport.
3. Make a Winter Plan
Treat winter differently from the rest of the year. As the weather changes, so do our preferences for exercise and food. One of the most productive ways to avoid winter weight is to acknowledge the change and plan for it.
4. Identify Your Comfort Foods
We’ve all got a comfort food (or three). And the colder weather lowers our willpower and increases our desire to stock up on these types of food. That’s tied to our metabolism and evolution. Many animals ‘hibernate’ during winter after eating more calories than normal. While humans don’t sleep for months on end, we do have similar impulses to consume more energy.
Diet is a big factor in winter weight. And there is nothing wrong with comfort foods. But if you have one or two that you particularly enjoy, write them down, then research alternatives. You’ll be able to enjoy them, but not pay the price when it comes to winter weight.
5. Keep Yourself Accountable
Whether it’s a diet goal or an exercise goal, one proven way to meet it is to keep yourself accountable by sharing it publicly. That might take the form of committing to a 12-week challenge with a friend (the length of winter).
Or it might be as simple as putting a post-it note on the fridge about what healthy foods you’re going to eat that week so that your partner or housemates see it (and you know that they’ve seen it). This little hack can have huge effects on your accountability.
6. Sleep Enough
This is a short tip because it’s the easiest thing to do in winter: get under the covers and sleep! Between seven and nine hours is ideal and can be helped along by a warm bed, soft lighting in the bedroom and a ‘sleep routine’ (like a caffeine-free drink and a book or magazine).
High heat and humidity increase our need for water because we sweat more. But even if we don’t sweat as much, we are compelled to drink more as a way of cooling off and feeling refreshed. It’s fairly common for people to become dehydrated during winter because those ‘cues’ to drink aren’t there. Counter this by having a water bottle with you and scheduling in warm drinks during the day.
8. Drink Green Tea
There is some evidence that green tea contains compounds that assist with energy production, immune response and increased weight loss. So rather than loading up on a third cup of coffee, incorporate this ancient wonder drink into your day (as a bonus, it will also help you keep hydrated).
9. Snack Well
Having a solid plan for your winter snacks will keep you from going for less nutritious options that are easier to grab and go. Homemade soups are a great way to add several serves of vegetables to your day and give you the nutrition you need. Soups are also filling and make you less likely to reach for high-calorie alternatives.
10. Consider Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting is a proven way to create a calorie deficit and lose weight. It IS NOT starving yourself. It is eating a reduced number of calories in a given period before reverting to a healthy, balanced diet and calorie amount the next day.
This tip should be considered in light of your personal health history. If you have any questions at all about how to do it safely (for your personal circumstances), you should consult with a health practitioner before trying it. And if you do try it, and feel lightheaded or unwell, be sure to have an energy-rich snack on hand during your first few attempts, just in case!