Why Am I Gaining Weight in the Winter?

Gaining weight during the cold winter months is fairly common, with studies reporting an average gain of anywhere from five to seven pounds. But what causes weight gain during these months specifically? While cold weather and holiday gatherings centered around tasty treats may be contributing factors, there are a lot of other reasons you might see your scale moving in an undesirable direction during the winter season.

Key takeaways:

Thankfully, there are also some proven tips and tricks that can help you limit the winter weight gain but still enjoy all the holiday treats.

Causes of winter weight gain

There are multiple reasons behind the fluctuating numbers on the scale, especially during the winter season. Here are some.

Cold weather

When you think of winter weight gain, your tendency is probably to blame it on the cold weather. Oddly enough, however, the cold weather isn’t really what’s causing the extra pounds. Some studies have even shown that cold weather can help you lose body fat and increase calorie burn. What is more likely to be causing the weight gain is a lack of motivation to get outside, which is likely due to the colder temperatures.

While some people enjoy cold weather, many of us prefer to stay indoors where it’s warm. This temptation to stay inside and keep warm can make it difficult to find the motivation to leave the house and hit the gym. Sometimes even when the motivation to work out is present, the winter weather and icy roads can make it physically impossible to safely get to the gym, making the decision to stay home that much easier. Thus, a combination of cold weather and loss of motivation can contribute to that extra winter weight gain.

Holiday temptations

The holiday season often kicks off with Thanksgiving, when Americans consume between 2,500 to 4,500 calories at one meal. As the typical daily calorie intake is closer to 1,800 to 2,000 for most people, this one-holiday meal can end up being double an entire day’s worth of calories. Next up there’s Christmas Day, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa (or all three!), and then New Year’s Eve, all of which often offer delicious foods and treats as part of their celebration

It can also be nearly impossible to escape temptation at work since coworkers tend to bring holiday treats to the workplace to celebrate too. It’s really easy to just grab a donut or a cupcake for a snack when they are sitting in the break room, and you are tight on time. It may not seem like you are overeating too much, or even on a daily basis, but these extra calories from holiday treats can add up over the winter months and result in a larger number on the scale.

Sleep pattern changes

During the winter months, the sun begins to set earlier, resulting in fewer hours of sunshine during the day. Less sunlight causes an increased production of melatonin, the main hormone that regulates sleep patterns. This is why many people report feeling extra tired and sluggish during the dark, cold winter months. The extra fatigue from the increase in melatonin can affect your already diminished level of motivation to hit the gym. Not only is it dark and cold outside, but you’re also exhausted, making it quite easy to make the decision to stay indoors where it’s warm and binge some Netflix instead.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

Feelings of depression are common in the winter months, and the technical name for this condition is seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Typically, depressive symptoms begin in the late fall when the weather starts to get colder, and they last through the end of winter. Symptoms of SAD include:

  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and notice that they correlate with weather pattern changes, contact your healthcare provider. There are several treatments available for this disorder that can assist in improving your mood and maybe even preventing some of that extra winter weight gain.

How can I avoid winter weight gain?

It may not be possible to completely avoid gaining a few pounds in the winter, but there are several tips and tricks you can try that should keep the extra weight gain to a minimum.

At-home workouts

If the thought of venturing into the single-digit temperatures is overwhelming, consider doing your workouts at home. There are a lot of fitness apps out there that provide at-home workout ideas involving minimal equipment, which is excellent if you don’t have access to a home gym. It’s a lot easier to walk downstairs to hit the treadmill or do some yoga than to brave the icy roads for a run or drive on them to get to the gym.

Improve sleep patterns

Though fatigue is common in the winter because of that increase in melatonin, there are ways you can improve your sleep patterns to improve the sluggishness and hopefully gain enough energy to stay active. First, going to bed and waking up at the same time each day is beneficial. There may be a temptation to go to bed earlier since it is dark outside earlier in the day, but doing so when you are not used to it may cause you to sleep too much, which can cause even more fatigue. Another way to improve your sleep is to avoid the use of electronics right before bed. Studies have shown that the use of smartphones and other devices with lights right before bed can dramatically decrease sleep quality, leaving you feeling unrested in the morning.

Treat yourself (within reason)

For some people, one of the biggest mistakes they can make is completely cutting out treats or junk food from their diet. This often results in episodes of binge eating unhealthy foods when they can no longer fight the temptation. Instead, it can be helpful to enter the holiday season with a realistic dieting goal in mind. Consuming a donut in the break room or a slice of your grandma’s famous chocolate pie at Christmas will not result in copious amounts of weight gain, but indulging in every holiday treat you are offered likely will. So enjoy yourself during the holidays but remember, moderation is key.

While weight gain is fairly common in the winter months due to a combination of cold weather, changing sleep patterns, and food temptations, there are strategies you can try that might limit the amount of weight you gain. If you’re worried about seeing the scale number increase this winter, consider working out at home, changing up your sleep patterns, and make some realistic diet changes. This will make getting in shape in the summer months a lot easier!

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