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The Science of Winter Weight Gain

It’s not uncommon to gain a pound or two during winter. It’s most likely why we see most people trying to tackle the common New Year’s resolution of losing weight in the new year. But why does this weight gain always seem to happen? There are actually many reasons, but by knowing these causes (and which ones you can control), you can do what you can to avoid some of the weight gain and be kind to yourself.

Seasonal Festivities

One of the biggest reasons for winter weight gain is the holiday season. It’s almost not fair that many celebrations are centered around food. The season kicks off with Thanksgiving, which is one massive excuse for a supersized meal. Then, less than a month later is Christmas, where we often exchange gifts and, you guessed it, eat a big Christmas dinner. Between that time, you have holiday parties, Christmas cookies, and all the snacks you could imagine. We’re not here to judge — we love the festive feasting. However, it’s certainly a solid explanation for why weight gain is common this time of year.

We’re not here to judge — we love the festive feasting.

If you’re looking to avoid weight gain while celebrating the holidays, it’ll usually be a matter of watching what you eat. For example, follow our guide for avoiding common holiday dinner traps. You should also try to avoid snacking between meals, as tempting as the Christmas cookies may be. Though, you can enjoy some —  it’s that time of year after all! Tweaks to your recipes can also make those cookies a little healthier.

Less Exercise

There are plenty of reasons to stay indoors under a comfy blanket until spring comes again, but this doesn’t help counter winter weight gain. Not only does winter often bring snow, but the average temperatures can be simply uncomfortable. In some cases, it’s cold enough out to be dangerous to exercise. Winter also brings shorter days, giving you less time to spend outside.

Exercise is good, but only if you’re being safe about it.

This is another winter weight gain factor you can counteract with a little effort and planning. Of course, you can bundle up and exercise outside, but you can also find ways to workout indoors. You can even spice up your workouts by making them holiday-themed. Just be extra careful if you are exercising outdoors or in cooler temperatures, since winter creates a climate that can make heart attacks more likely. There are also  hazards like ice on the sideway or slight spots of snow. Exercise is good, but only if you’re being safe about it.

Winter Hormone Changes

Now, we’re starting to get into the stuff that you may not be able to control. When winter rolls around, some factors can influence our bodies to work against our weight loss goals. One is the shorter days, which causes significantly higher levels of melatonin than other times of year. This can mess with your circadian rhythm, making you extra tired and less likely to be active.

The cold weather can also trigger an increased appetite and a craving for comfort foods. While there are multiple theories for why this may be the case, the leading one is that cold weather triggers self-preservation mode in our brains. Effectively, as our body temperature drops, our body craves calorie-dense foods to warm us back up. While the same effect could be achieved with healthier foods, our minds tend to go to comfort and denser foods first. There’s also a theory that cold weather and shorter days instinctually cause us to stockpile calories for a long winter.

Effectively, as our body temperature drops, our body craves calorie-dense foods to warm us back up.

Additionally, some people may develop a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression linked to lack of sunlight and circadian rhythm changes. This condition can manifest as many classic depression symptoms. Often, this will include appetite changes, sluggishness or persistent fatigue, and sleep issues. When stacked with the other potential causes of winter weight gain, SAD can make an already stacked deck feel tough to beat.

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We don’t want to end on a down note. While weight loss is a simple shorthand for health, it isn’t always an accurate measure of your health. We noted ways you can counter some factors of winter weight gain, but it’s also important to be kind to yourself. If you find yourself craving foods, it’s typically OK to treat yourself, but in healthy portions. If you’re feeling down about your weight, depressed, or any of the symptoms of SAD, speak to a licensed professional for guidance. Even if the factors are outside of your control, you have the ability to make a positive change in your life.

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