Are people gaining or losing weight in the winter? The answer isn’t so simple.
Picture this: It’s negative six degrees. I zip my coat up over three layers (an accomplishment within itself) and I’m ready and determined to go to the gym. But as soon as I take a step outside a huge gust of wind blows my way. I scream out, “Nooooo” and turn around. Winter weather: 1. My workout plan: 0.
Every year I dread winter. Even though I’ve lived in New England my entire life, I still get shocked when winter comes around and the temperature drops below 32 degrees. Why do I dread it? Well, because it’s really really cold and sometimes this prevents me from doing things I want or need to do, like working out. While warm weather makes you want to spend the whole day outside, the cold brings cravings for warm comfort foods and long sweatpants-filled days perfect for binge-watching Gilmore Girls and F.R.I.E.N.D.S on Netflix. I could go on but you get the picture.
So, as the cold weather rolls in and the pounds pile up, many people might wonder, “Does cold weather make you gain weight?”
The answer isn’t so simple.
Decreased moving in addition to increased consumption most likely leads to weight gain, which is, unfortunately the formula for many people’s winter days (also, it doesn’t help that the holidays and all that over-indulging kicks off the winter season!). Studies show that the average weight gain over the holidays is 2 pounds , while a recent poll by The Daily Mail found that 59 percent of women reported an average weight gain of 4.5 pounds during winter months.
But winter months are also peak ones for fitness and nutrition professionals. Why? Think New Year’s resolutions. Gyms become more crowded from January to mid-February with members on missions to get fit and trim. Weight loss centers and nutritionists’ offices see more appointments.
Now this is confusing. Are people gaining or losing weight in the winter? A combo? To understand if cold weather makes you gain weight, let’s examine how the cold weather may affect one’s nutrition and exercise habits:
Less movement means fewer calories burned and possible weight gain. In the winter, days are shorter and it’s darker earlier. You want more couch time. You’re stuck inside because there’s a blizzard. You walked outside, felt how cold it was, and decided to go back inside (sounds familiar). Let’s face it; cold weather may reduce your exercise patterns.
Rich comfort foods are often energy dense. When it’s cold, most people tend to crave warm comfort foods instead of fruits and vegetables.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of clinical depression due to decreased sunlight and winter’s shortened days, may alter one’s eating habits, causing over or under eating. Individuals with SAD tend to stay inside during the winter, which may lead to a change in eating and exercise patterns.
So yes, if a person is moving less and consuming more calories — something that happens more during the winter months — they are at a greater risk to gain weight.
However, if you want to avoid the outcome of a typical winter weight-gain formula, here are some go-to tips for avoiding weight gain in the cold months:
- Set a routine! Get to the gym by creating a routine or finding a workout partner. If you’ve made arrangements to meet someone, you’re more likely to go because you don’t want to let your buddy down!
- Embrace the cold! Try some outdoor sports, such as cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.
- Stay inside! Not motivated to leave the house for a workout? Do a workout DVD or have a dance party in your room.
- Find healthy alternatives! Looking for something savory and warm? Turn to a filling vegetable soup. Yearning for something sweet? Bake an apple or sweet potato and add some almond butter and cinnamon to it. The list goes on!
- Avoid mindless eating (eating on autopilot)! If you’re eating while binge-watching your favorite shows, you’re unable to make a mind-body connection with food. There’s no asking yourself if you are hungry or full. Instead, you’re focused on your show’s plot. If you must eat while watching TV grab a pre-portioned snack or meal. This will keep your portions in check and avoid those feelings you get when you realize a few handfuls turned into the entire bulk size bag.
- Elastic bands are frenemies! It’s cold and sweatpants are warm and cozy. But if you love sweatpants (who doesn’t), it can be easy for weight gain to go unnoticed. Try wearing the same pair of form fitting pants or jeans as a reference every few weeks to check in.
We’re about halfway through winter. Has the cold weather altered your diet and/or exercise routine? Try to take the time to evaluate your winter lifestyle. Once you’ve done this, you can focus on making positive and reasonable changes toward becoming a healthier you!
*Article previously published in Fiterazzi Magazine
I feel its SAD in cold dull weather leading to eating comfort foods, which consist mainly of process junk. So it leads to less activity, and increase in caloric intake of the worst kind.
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I’ve literally always wondered this because theoretically, one would think that some would be instinct to “keep warm.” I always, always lose weight in the winter because my IBS gets so much worse.
Dana, thank you so much for the last tip! It’s always been an unpleasant surprise when I put on some of my favorite clothes in spring 🙁
You’re very welcome. Thanks for reading!
I was reading this article with both pleasure and shock. yes, everything is like you described. cold seasons do not keep us motivated or cheerful, and most of us experience decreased mood or even depression during winter. well, your article is definitely interesting and makes me think… or, at least, reconsider my cold-season behavior and habits, including eating ones.
Thanks for reading and commenting, Deya! Appreciate it.
Growing up, my brother and I went outside just as much in the winter because we were excited to see snow. And I’ve always been a really warm person so for me the cold outside is a huge relief. However, as an adult, I’ve lived in the south without an appreciable cool down in the winter and I miss it. This is not an angle I’ve considered when wishing for cooler winter months – thanks for raising the topic!
Thank you for sharing and taking a read, Jess. I’ve known nothing else but four seasons, and it’s always interesting to hear other perspectives (and different locations + seasons).
Thank you for the info. I have a TOPS meeting every week and this is an interesting subject that I wanted to discuss with them. We live in the U. P. Michigan and got 51” of snow this past 7 days. So we are all having this weight problem.
Happy this is helpful. Thank you for reading and commenting, Diane.
This is a goldmine!
I normally don’t read many articles as they seems to be all same. However, I love this article.
Keep up the good work…
Thanks for your kind words, Wilson!
When we are not really passionate about working out then weather can present a very good and strong excuse to not head towards gym. I remember hot and sweaty weather in Australia gave me the best excuse to not venture out but one has to overcome that by remembering their fitness objectives.
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