Why Do People Gain Weight In the Winter?
There are actually several reasons why. Some of them are the same old common sense reasons that we’ve been hearing about for years, but some of the reasons for winter weight gain actually are due to biological processes taking place in your body. It isn’t all in your head!
How Stress Affects Winter Weight Gain
For many of us, the winter months mean planning or attending tons of different parties and dinners, not to mention trying to find the perfect gift for everyone. Driving around on dangerous, icy roads doesn’t help much either. What do all of these things have to do with gaining weight? These are all stressful situations and stress causes you to have higher levels of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol controls appetite and makes your body store more fat (especially in your abdomen).
How Serotonin Affects Your Weight
People also tend to have more food cravings during the winter. The production of serotonin, which is a chemical that regulates appetite and mood, can drop during the winter months due to shorter days and less daylight. When serotonin levels drop it can cause you to have more cravings, especially for carbohydrates. Lower serotonin levels can also cause depression. Depression can have many different symptoms, depending on the individual. Some people eat less but some people eat more when they are depressed.
The last few years there has also been a lot of new research that shows that diets high in carbohydrates (the types of foods we tend to crave when our serotonin levels drop) lead to winter weight gain and obesity. So you’re better off cutting out some of the bread, pasta, and anything sweet. It’s awful, I know. But you’ll be proud of yourself come summer.
Cold Weather Is Messing With Your Leptin Levels
Leptin is a hormone that helps regulate your body weight. When leptin levels lower it can cause your body to think it’s starving. When your body thinks it’s starving, it produces more appetite-stimulating hormones, which cause you to eat more.
Let’s face it, you’re bored!
The only fun and exciting part of winter are all of the holiday celebrations but they don’t last very long. That means there are plenty of days when the weather is terrible and you’d rather stay inside than have to go through all the trouble of bundling up to stay warm and facing the dangerous road conditions. And as we all know, people tend to eat more when they’re bored.
Preventing Winter Weight Gain
So what can you do?
- Make sure you get plenty of sleep. A lack of sleep has been linked to higher levels of cortisol. Try to make your life as stress-free as possible. Pretty much impossible, I know, but at least try. Remember, stress releases cortisol which tricks your body into holding onto every ounce of at it can.
- Regular exercise also helps relieve stress. I know it’s hard to do when it’s cold but bundle up and get out there. Experts are now saying you only need about 30 minutes a day to see health benefits. Exercise is also great for helping depression as well (and remember, sometimes depression makes you want to eat more).
- Cut back on carbohydrates. Scientists are starting to find evidence that over-consumption of carbs doesn’t just make you gain weight. High carb diets are linked to heart disease, depression, many autoimmune disorders and possibly even Alzheimer’s disease. Make sure to check food labels for added sugar. A lot of times food companies add sugar to things you would never even think of.
- Try to get enough sunlight every day. This can be difficult to do in the winter but it’s important. We all know too MUCH sunlight can be dangerous and puts you at risk for skin cancer but too little can lead to depression. If you really don’t want to go outside you can buy a Bright Light Therapy Lamp. There are plenty on Amazon. Make sure you get one that provides the recommended 10,000 LUX of glare-free white light.
- It’s really important to control your cravings. A great way to do this is by eating more protein and fiber. They both take longer to digest and they stay in your system longer so you still feel full long after you’ve eaten.
If you have tried everything to lose weight and nothing has worked (and you’re a female) you might have a hormonal imbalance called PCOS.