Fall is the time of year when nature dresses in her most stunning colors and favors us with cool evenings and the chance to bust out our favorite boots. But as soon as we feel that first nip in the air that signals winter, many of us begin to worry about putting on a few extra pounds. Yes, the colder months are packed with the most empty-calorie-intensive holidays of the year, but is that the only reason some of us feel as though we’re coming up on a period of unwelcome weight gain?
First, we need to deal with the misconception that we add on a layer of fat to stay warm during the winter months. Yes, weather and seasonal changes do have a natural effect on our metabolism, but it’s not in the way some of us might think. Over 10 years ago, Dutch researchers found that human metabolism actually speeds up in response to colder temperatures. And Ayurveda, the ancient medical and life science hailing from India, also teaches that agni, or digestion, is strongest in the cold months of winter, enabling us to handle the proper, hearty foods we need to sustain ourselves.
Sure, exposure to extreme cold will eventually cause your metabolism to slow as your body conserves the energy from its peripheral functions to keep your core temperature up, thus staving off hypothermia. But living through cold months is not the same thing at all. Simple exposure to chilly temps, the kind that make you shiver a bit (shivering can burn up to 400 calories per hour), actually ramps up your metabolism as your body starts to work harder to keep you warm.
So if metabolism isn’t the culprit, why do some people find that their weight goes up quite predictably during the coldest months of the year? A few factors immediately pop to mind:
- Inactivity. One of the most overlooked reasons is that most people are less physically active in the winter. When the weather turns cold, slushy and dreary, it’s much more difficult to get outside and run, hike, bike, play tennis or go golfing, thus setting us up for unwanted winter weight gain.
- Change in diet. Of course, when the weather is cooler, we also seem to crave heavier, more substantial meals over salads and lighter choices.
- Holiday fare. Between the limited opportunities for outdoor exercise and the concentration of holiday gatherings and feasts, it’s no wonder many of us are breaking out our “fat pants” at this time of year.
There HAS to be a better way.
As the weather begins to change, try getting into a morning yoga routine. It can be at home with a great DVD or at your local studio. Not only will it warm your body, but you’ll also stretch out any stiff parts, activate your metabolism and feel better the rest of the day. It may take some discipline to get going on cold, dark mornings, but you’ll be rewarded by feeling amazing, which will motivate you to keep going with your routine.
Sticking to a diet of organic, whole foods will keep your metabolism humming along and prevent winter weight gain. Remember, an efficiently functioning system allows your body to make the most of the nutrients you consume; when you eat the right foods, they promote a healthy metabolism. It’s a positive feedback cycle that’s easy to develop when you eat whole, natural foods.
To help support a healthy metabolism, add warming spices like ginger, clove, nutmeg and turmeric into your diet. Make watery, warming soups and stews with lentils and veggies your comfort foods instead of heavy meals with lots of meat and dairy that will make you feel weighed down and take hours to digest.
Proper sleep is also essential. Since it gets darker earlier in the day anyway, head into bed a little earlier. When you’re well rested, your hormones are balanced and you tend to make better eating choices throughout the day as well.
Regular exercise, a healthy sleep schedule and a clean, whole foods–based diet will keep your metabolism going at a steady pace and keep you off the winter-weight merry-go-round for good!
- If you’re looking to rejuvenate and stay in one night instead of going out, I highly recommend the eye-opening environmental documentary Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret on Netflix.
- Physiology & Behavior: Seasonal changes in metabolic and temperature responses to cold air in humans
- The Nest: Why Do Cold Temperatures Slow Down Your Metabolism?
- Mayo Clinic: Hypothermia
- ACE Fit Life: Do I burn more calories when it is hot outside or cold?
- Livestrong.com: Why Do People Gain Weight in Winter?
- Kimberly Snyder: How to Speed Up Your Metabolism
- Kimberly Snyder: The Beauty Detox Power Yoga Series DVD