If, like for many people, winter signifies the start of a three-month hibernation, you may be familiar with some good ol’ “winter weight gain” by the time spring finally comes around.
It’s definitely not the end of the world, nor is it a reason to follow ‘detoxes’ or strict diets. But there are easy ways to avoid unwanted weight gain — and you don’t have to give up all of your favourite winter meals.
“The cooler air and shorter days can trigger some changes in behaviours which encourage fat storage,” nutritionist and celebrity chef Zoe Bingley-Pullin told HuffPost Australia.
“Specifically, eating is a way to raise body temperature and so, when cold, we seek out food where we ordinarily may not.”
Not to mention that we physically hide from the cold by staying inside much of the time (thus avoiding gyms and outdoor activities).
“This means we may find ourselves eating more and moving less during the cooler months, which if poorly controlled can lead to weight gain.”
Here are 10 tips to avoid winter weight gain to start implementing now.
1. Cook at home
Rather than getting takeaway every night, focus on home cooking. This way you can see exactly what goes into your food, are able to make healthier choices, and control portion sizes.
“Cook more and be in control of your food. This is such a simple way to rein in your diet,” Bingley-Pullin said.
“For example, make your own spice pastes. Spicy dishes are a popular pick during winter. However, most commercial spice pastes will contain added sugar, poor quality fats and preservatives. Try making your own by blending up a mix of your favourite herbs and spices.”
Need some cooking inspo? Here’s how to make brussels sprouts and porridgetaste delicious (promise), as well as fun cafe-style bowl recipes.
2. Up your protein (and keep carbs under control)
During the cooler months we turn to comfort foods, which usually come in the form of hot carbs (looking at you, mac and cheese). However, eating too many carbohydrates combined with little exercise can result in weight gain. To maintain macronutrient balance, increase your lean protein.
“Balance meals in terms of protein, fats and carbs — having the correct mix of all three macronutrients will help to prevent overeating and increase satiety,” Bingley-Pullin said.
“Eat protein (eggs, chicken, yoghurt, lamb, fish, tempeh, tofu, legumes, nuts and seeds) at each meal and snack to keep appetite under control.
“Use the right fats, too. Fats are a great way to increase satiety and make a dish feel more comforting. Prioritise by using extra virgin olive oil, avocado, tahini paste, raw nuts and seeds.
“Be mindful of excess carbohydrates. A lot of warming and comfort foods are carbohydrate dense, so if you’re not very active stick to one-quarter plate of carbohydrates at each meal.”
3. Focus on fibre
Although fibre isn’t a ‘sexy’ part of our diet, it’s massively important for helping to keep us full and keep our bowels functioning optimally — things we need when we’re less active and craving more food during winter.
“Aim for at least 30 grams of fibre daily for satiety,” Bingley-Pullin said.
Fibre-rich foods include fruit, veggies, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
4. Eat more veggies
Increasing your veggie intake doesn’t have to mean eating a bowl of steamed broccoli for dinner. It’s about cooking a variety of veggies in different ways and combinations.
“Aim for half a plate of vegetables at each meal,” Bingley-Pullin said.
“It’s not necessary to completely forgo your favourite comfort foods such as a creamy pasta. Instead, keep portions small and add in extra veg.”
To jazz up your veggies and make them more enticing, here are some simple tips.
5. Plan ahead
We’ve all ordered takeaway (or resorted to instant noodles) for dinner when we “don’t have any food in the house” — let’s face it, there is food, but no meals. It’s a common excuse and there’s an easy way around it.
“Be prepared. Prep breakfast the night before if you know you have an early start, make enough salad for lunch when cooking dinner, and have healthy snacks handy — such as raw fruit and nut balls, natural yoghurt, fresh fruit, seed and nut mixes, homemade dips and vegetables,” Bingley-Pullin told HuffPost Australia.
6. Move your body
Yes, it’s hard to go out into the cold and go for a run, but there are countless other ways to exercise and move your body in comfort. Try yoga at home in your pyjamas, pilates in front of the heater, a swim in an indoor heated pool, or a treadmill run in a temperature-controlled gym.
“Prioritise movement — schedule it in as a necessary part of your day.”
7. Stay hydrated
Water is something we can forget about over the cooler months as we sweat and move less, but drinking enough water is just as important in winter as it is during summer.
“Drink at least 1.5-2 litres of water daily to help with metabolism and keeping appetite in check,” Bingley-Pullin said.
8. Practise mindful eating
While it is time efficient, eating in a rush can cause digestion issues, as well as feeling unsatisfied or hungry after a meal.
Mindful eating not only allows you to enjoy your food and all the flavours, but also helps you digest food properly and tune into your hunger signals. This, in turn, can help prevent overeating and support weight management.
“Eat mindfully and until satisfied — not overly full,” Bingley-Pullin said.
9. Seek healthy alternatives
We all love comfort foods like chocolate, baked desserts and creamy pasta, and there’s a way to make all these healthier.
“If you feel like crumbed fish, use an almond meal or coconut flake crumb. If you want a creamy curry, use thick yoghurt. If you want a warming dessert, use fruit as the base — for example, poached pear or roasted apple.”
10. Be consistent
Although we wish otherwise, it’s unsustainable to vow to never indulge in treats or comforting junk foods all winter long, or to exercise seven days a week. Instead, be consistent with the above tips and treat yourself in moderation.
“Consistency is key,” Bingley-Pullin said. “Be realistic with what you are doing and make sure it’s manageable and enjoyable.”