Year after year people continue to gain weight over winter. This is often followed by strict dieting and many exercise videos or routines entitled ‘get bikini body ready’. There are numerous reasons behind the dreaded kilos we tend to pick up over winter. However, it would be much easier and healthier if we didn’t accept the seemingly inevitable gain. Some people accept this as their new weight whilst others take the restrictive dieting path.
In regards to winter eating habits, a study conducted by NSW Health and the NSW Food Authority found the following:
- Forty five percent of Australians anticipate a winter weight gain of up to 2kg(1)
- 90% said they eat more fast foods and takeaway because it helps to lift their mood and feel warmer(1)
- 59% of Australians said their weight gain would be due to a decrease in exercise and an increase in the intake of fast foods, takeaways and snacks(1)
This blog will help equip you with a plan to avoid weight gain for the remainder of these winter months.
1. Bulkier, more conservative clothing
Why it presents a problem
Bulkier clothing that covers more up can mean that we feel more relaxed about a little weight gain. After all, not many people are likely to notice under that big coat. However we should try to avoid thinking like this. What clothing we wear should not dictate our weight. It’s not about visibility, it’s about health. Gaining weight over winter leads to the rush to lose it again before summer which can lead to unhealthy dieting and yo-yoing.
It’s best to be aware of your weight and try to maintain it at a healthy level. Think of it as a matter of health, not appearance. Plus it will save you the trouble of losing it later or alternatively, increasing by a few kilos each year.
2. Comfort food
Why it presents a problem
This can be a tough one to get around as the driving force behind our desire for these foods is our mood. Many people suffer from a feeling of ennui in winter – boredom, dissatisfaction, restlessness. As a result, they turn to “comfort food” to lift their spirit and produce a feeling of contentment. Unfortunately this feeling is only temporary and eating like this frequently will contribute to weight gain.
Comfort foods tend to be those high in fat, salt and kilojoules, often referred to as “stodgy” foods e.g. hot chips, pasta dishes or even large servings of roast vegetables that have been cooked with lashings of oil and covered in gravy. These foods throw off our energy balance as we eat more of them yet exercise less. The excess fat and energy is then stored as adipose tissue.
This one generally takes some will power. Everyone wants that bowl of hot chips and gravy but we need to keep in mind that it’s not a good idea to have regularly – keep it as a one off and opt for something else. Try other warm options that have far fewer fat and calories. Some examples include:
- Soup: soup is easy to make yourself or can be store bought. This is a good idea because most soup options out there are very low in kilojoules and fat yet they feel satisfying and provide you with some warmth/ comfort! Due to the low kilojoule content, they can be paired with a wholegrain slice of bread or bread roll. Unfortunately, soup is known for having a high sodium content so if you are needing to reduce your salt intake, look for sodium reduced varieties or make your soup from home.
- Left over vegetables. This is a great way to get some additional veges in! Plus it again provides you with a warm option that satisfies. Pair your vegetables with ½ a cup of brown rice, a small portion of lean protein (e.g. 60g chicken) or lentils. Either steam vegetables or roast them using only a small amount of oil – spray oil is good for achieving this. These methods will retain nutrients and reduce kilojoules.
- Toasted sandwich. Yes, you can eat bread and still maintain a stable weight! It is surprising how many people I hear cutting bread out of their diet in order to avoid weight gain. Truth be told – 2 slices a day won’t push you over board if the rest of your diet is in keeping with your energy requirements. If you’re drinking a can of coke or 3 coffees each day then it’s probably not the bread that you need to forgo.
- Try a toasted sandwich on wholegrain bread with a slice of fat reduced cheese and tomato or whatever variation you like- avocado, tuna, salmon, salad.
- Warm salads e.g. roast pumpkin with lamb, rocket and pine nuts
3. Watch the warm beverages
Yes, hot chocolates, chai lattes and many coffees a day are oh so tempting but keep an eye on your intake! Don’t make hot chocolate, chai lattes or any of those fancy coffees with syrups become a daily habit (some of these can be equivalent to a meal in terms of the energy they provide – with less nutrition).
When ordering coffee, try it with skim milk or ask for it ¾ full – this is more important if you are having over one per day in which case it can add up more than you think! On those days that you really need your hot chocolate or chai fix, go for the small size and take your time with it. Also get it on skim milk.
This is another big contributor! As mentioned above, we consume more food that is higher in energy yet we exercise less. On those cold, dark days the couch and heater are all too enticing. Yet we are meant to get changed in to our work our gear and brave the cold.
It may be tough but keep as active as possible. Once you get home from work, plan to do some form of activity straight away – before sitting down! Afterwards you can enjoy the couch, heater and TV. Aim for even half an hour per day.
Perhaps at home fitness videos would work best for you? This way you don’t even have to leave the house and there are so many to choose from ranging from yoga to cardio/ weight work outs. If you put in the effort, they can be equally as effective as a gym class.
Alternatively, you could make your commute to work your activity by cycling or briskly walking (if this is realistic). Or you could go for a run – it may be tough at first but you will quickly warm up.
Make your husband, partner, kids, friends or housemates go with you! Great motivation and you don’t have to feel like you are suffering alone.
5. Fat as insulation
It has long been joked about that the additional fat gained over winter helps to keep us warm. Whilst in some circumstances fat is an insulator, it appears this may not be an accurate reason to justify the excess weight.
Brown fat is what babies have – this keeps them warm(2). Adults also have small reserves. Brown fat stores energy in the form of small fat droplets that are designed to be burnt which produces heat and hence the insulation effect(2). It even helps to burn kilojoules. Unfortunately this is not the type of fat that is created when we eat too many cakes and chocolates. We gain white fat which doesn’t have quite the same heating effect(2). It stores the fat until it is needed, opposed to burning it like brown fat does(2).
Contact us for results focused nutritional advice
This article was written by our dietitian Belinda Elwin who is a Dietitians Association of Australia member and Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist.
If you have questions about weight loss or other nutrition related issues, make an appointment. We‘ll provide you with a simple and effective routine targeted to your concerns. Contact us today.
- NSW Food Authority.Australians expected to gain 15 million kgs this Winter, new study finds. NSW Health. June 2012.
- Collins F. Brown Fat, White Fat, Good fat, Bad Fat. National Institutes of Health. Maryland; March 2013.