How To Prevent Winter Weight Gain

It’s crazy to imagine winter is just about upon us again. Is it just me or does every year seem shorter than the previous one? It doesn’t feel like I took down my holiday decorations all that long ago and now it’s about time to put them up again. So, yes the season is changing and with that change our lifestyles also change and not necessarily for the better.

Winter weight gain is an accepted truth. What isn’t accepted is how much on average that weight gain is. Depending on the study that amount can be anywhere from 1 – 5 pounds. Clearly 5 lbs. would be significant, but even 1 lb. if not lost soon adds up. Ten seasons in you’re 10 lbs. heavier and that my friends is not a good thing. In colder climates this gain tends to be worse.

The Why’s of Winter Weight Gain

There are physical, social and psychological factors that can each influence seasonal weight gain.

Man Can't button too tight pants

Physical Factors - The fact that it’s colder outside, rainy days arrive and snow begins to fall make it much more difficult to get outside and walk, run, ride or play. It also gets darker earlier, so time becomes more of an issue as well. Whereas I live in Los Angeles, California, (some say we have two types of weather here in LA, sunny and warm and sunny and hot) we still have 3 hour shorter days. The byproduct is an even longer commute home and a lower likelihood of making it to the gym. For those who have real weather just getting your car out of the driveway can be a feat. So, less exercise becomes more common.

Less exercise means you burn off fewer calories and you begin to quickly fall out of shape which in turn makes it harder to get back into shape later. As you lose muscle mass your metabolism slows and you burn less fat.

Social Factors – The winter season happens to be when the holidays fall, everything from Halloween to New Years and along with those celebratory days comes, well, celebration. That means parties and gatherings, dinners and lunches, etc. We are talking about food and drink and plenty of it. Many a diet goes out the window during this time as temptation is everywhere. Who wants to be the downer at the company party or your friend’s annual shindig? The pressure is on to have fun and this year you are up to the task.

Psychological Factors – Serotonin levels tend to drop during winter due to increased levels of SERT (serotonin transporter protein) in response to less sunlight. The result is SAD; no really that’s what it’s called. It stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder. Depression, anxiety, fatigue and irritability are all symptoms.  What this means for you is less motivation to do what you need to do like - exercise. You’ll likely also feel a desire for more comfort foods, i.e. carbohydrates and junk food.

Steps to Prevent Seasonal Weight Gain

Man running up stairs in shorts

1)      Find ways to stay physically active. If you can, use breaks in weather to get outdoors and move around. If it’s too cold outside then try exercising indoors at health club or at home. If you have exercise equipment at home use it. If not try a little circuit routine of push-ups (or knee push-ups) chair dips, planks and chair squats. Rest little between exercises, but 2 minutes between circuits. Do 3 circuits in total. For added benefit use the bottom step of a stair case or a small sturdy box like an apple or milk crate and do step-ups for at least 30 seconds at a time. You can find exercise opportunities everywhere, building stairwells are a great choice. Household chores are another good way to stay active, mopping, sweeping and vacuuming work your core and burn calories for instance.

2)      Diet is 70% of weight loss so, one should never expect to train or exercise weight off alone without moderating food intake.  A healthier diet becomes even more important during these lower activity months. In particular try restricting simple carbohydrates and junk foods. Increasing protein and keeping fats to around 30% of calories will help to keep your energy up and lower cravings. This is a tough time of year to lose weight, so focus rather on not gaining. Cut your caloric intake by 5-10% or so, but not too drastically. Time your meals and snacks out to about every 3 hours.

To combat the symptoms of SAD eat low glycemic carbohydrates like yams, sweet potato, whole grains and oatmeal. Carbohydrates are very effective at raising serotonin levels. A slice of whole grain bread or 4 ounces of sweet potato should do the trick. Eat high tryptophan proteins (tryptophan is a serotonin precursor) like turkey, chicken, cottage cheese, low fat milk, white fish and legumes. Also, do your best to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night.

Finding Your Lifestyle Balance

A cut and dry routine that works for one person may not work for another without feeling repressive or undoable. The goal should be to find a balance that works for you. Maybe a little more exercise and a little less food.  As little as 15-20 minutes of exercise 3 times a week can do wonders. You should also keep to your holiday social agenda. Every study proves that staying socially connected has profound healthful benefits. Don’t skip out because you’re afraid to lose control, just pick at which ones you might give in to temptation and at which ones you will keep to your agenda. One trick I use is I eat a healthy meal at home before going out and this generally keeps me from over noshing later. Also if drink is the issue alternate garnished water or sparkling water for every other drink. Besides saving calories you will feel better in the morning as well.  

Now get out there and make me, hell, make yourself proud. Cheers!



1) – Seasonal depression caused by increased levels of serotonin transporter protein

2)      Popular science – Ain’t no cure for the winter time blues