Winter brings an array of challenges each year and of course, stopping the urge to devour the contents of your pantry and avoid the subsequent weight gain is one of them.
But it is not our fault. Really. We’ve evolved to develop a subconscious impulse to do exactly that in the winter months, according to research from the University of Exeter.
Evolutionarily speaking, being overweight has never posed a serious threat to our survival. Being underweight has. In the winter, our natural instinct to maintain body fat is stronger than any other season because that’s naturally when food is scarce. So, more often than not, we fail to pass on sweet, fatty, unhealthy foods.
Simply being aware of this evolutionary tendency is step one. Beyond this first step of awareness, it goes back to the fundamentals of appetite control, like eating healthy, real foods while avoiding foods that drive appetite, and being mindful during all aspects of eating.
Here are four other ways to avoid weight gain this season:
Avoid white flour products like white rice, white potatoes, sugar, and sweets since high glycemic carbs can skyrocket blood sugar and insulin, increasing your appetite and promoting the storage of fat.
Instead, fill up on fiber-rich foods such as whole fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans. They can keep hunger at bay, stimulate the appetite-controlling hormone leptin, and keep glucose from flooding your blood stream.
Limit sugar, especially in beverages, sugary cereals, and processed foods (like salad dressings, flavored yogurts, and packaged dessert snacks), which can trigger insulin resistance and fat storage.
Get more protein into your diet. The most natural way to provide longer lasting appetite control is to consume fish, skinless poultry, nut butters, whole soy foods, dairy products, eggs, and beans. This will prevent the loss of muscle and help you maintain weight loss.
Winter weight can also be attributed to more than just what we put in our bodies and is crucial in maintaining a healthy body weight and ensuring that any extra or excessive weight gain is kept under control.
Reason one: we're preparing for 'hibernation'
Your constant evasion of social events (and choosing Netflix and hot chocolate instead) is proof that most of us hibernate like bears in our cosy beds and homes during winter. This instinctual tendency to hibernate or 'hide' from the cold is one possible reason why we can gain weight in winter.
"Scientists suggest our primitive instincts kick in and we feel the need to stock up on calories, much the way bears prepare for hibernation," body science expert Moodi Dennaoui, aka The Diet Doctor, told The Huffington Post Australia.
"We tend to consume approximately 200 additional calories per day as the sun starts to set sooner. This can be attributed to an innate fear of not being able to source the necessary nutrients when foods become more scarce in winter."
Reason two: we produce more of the 'sleep' hormones
Much to our dismay, the days are much shorter in winter, meaning there is less sunlight (and heat) to enjoy. This lack of sunlight can also affect our hormones (in particular our sleep hormones) and some people may develop seasonal affective disorder.
"When we are seeing less daylight, our pineal glands respond to the lack of sunshine by producing melatonin, the sleep hormone that can make use feel ready to sleep," Dennaoui explained.
"That feeling of sleepiness, especially when it is not actually time to sleep, can result in a lack of energy and motivation. The higher melatonin levels tend to increase appetite."
Nutritionist and celebrity chef, Zoe Bingley-Pullin, echoes this sentiment.
"The hormone melatonin, which controls our sleep-wake cycle, is also believed to be increased during winter and is tied to heightened appetite. This means we may find ourselves eating more and moving less during the cooler months, which if poorly controlled, can lead to weight gain," she told HuffPost Australia.
Reason three: our metabolism increases
"Our metabolisms increase in winter in order to burn more energy to stabilise our body temperature and stay warm, meaning we require more food for the body's extra energy demands," nutritionist Pip Reed explained.
However, this doesn't necessarily mean we should be eating more to compensate, especially in a warmer climate like Australia.
"In this day and age we have temperature controlled surroundings, meaning it's very rare we would require this extra food as our environment is generally a stable, warm temperature at home and at work," Reed said.
Reason four: we're less likely to exercise
It goes without saying that we all feel much less motivated to go to the gym in winter because we would much rather eat aforementioned warm comfort foods (and are far too busy binge watching Friends for the fiftieth time).
"With shorter daylight and colder weather we are more likely to make excuses for not hitting the gym or going outside for our usual activities," Reed said.
Now that we know why we can gain winter weight, with spring upon us, many are looking to return to their pre-winter fitness and shape.
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