Just last year, researchers from Cornell University found that our weight starts to climb in October, and peaks roughly 10 days after Christmas.
It’s not so much the amount of weight gained that’s the problem (on average, a 1.3-pound increase during the season), but how long it can take to lose, say the study’s researchers. While half of the weight gained by study participants came off soon after the holidays were over, the other half took more than five months to lose.
But don’t go shopping for elastic waistbands quite yet. Just because winter weight gain can happen, it doesn’t mean it has to happen to you. By making a few savvy seasonal adjustments, you can keep your weight-loss goals on track without depriving yourself of your favorite wintry treats.
Here, seven expert-backed strategies to help you fend off cold-weather weight gain like a champ. (Of course, you can always do a few of our Metashred Extreme workouts in your living room, too.)
When the temperature drops, so does our motivation to exercise. Sure, snow squalls have a way of adding drama to even the simplest of errands, but they can also do your body good—activities like shoveling snow, scraping ice off your windshield, power-walking down a poorly-plowed street, or having a snowball fight with your friends or significant other can burn major calories, not to mention rev up your metabolism and promote insulin sensitivity (which can help quash sugar cravings), says Florida-based registered dietitian Alyssa Cohen, R.D.
Once your go-to farmers market shuts down for the season, the lack of easily accessible produce in the winter may cause you to reach for more convenience foods, like salty snacks or baked goods, especially as supermarkets start putting out their holiday spread. However, there are plenty of nutrient-dense—and super-tasty—fruits and vegetables available when it’s chilly, says Cohen. Greatest hits include Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, and many citrus fruits.
Not a fan of what’s in-season? Don’t fret: Opt for frozen out-of-season fruits and vegetables, which are just as nutritious since they’re frozen at peak freshness, she says.
“Hydration can fall by the wayside during the colder months when we’re sweating less and focused on staying warm,” says Edwina Clark, R.D., head of nutrition and wellness at Yummly. “However, drinking water before a meal may help reduce total energy intake and assist with portion control—both of which are important for weight loss.” You can actually see the water you’re losing through water vapor when temps are cold enough, so use that as a reminder to stay hydrated, says Cohen.
Also, remember that meeting your hydration needs doesn’t always have to be done with cold water: Stave off the shivers by flavoring hot water with in-season fruit, such as orange slices, or frozen out-of-season berries.
Besides staying bundled and cozying up to the nearest heater, comfort foods are another way we cope with sub-zero temperatures. And nothing beats soups and stews—but not all are created equal, especially when weight loss is your goal.
Clark recommends going for a broth or tomato-based soup that’s loaded with vegetables. “Non-starchy vegetables make soups more filling—and nutritious—without substantially increasing calories,” she says. As for stews, boost the protein content of your recipes by adding meat, fish, or tofu, which lowers insulin levels in your body to help prevent extra fat storage, says Linda Anegawa, M.D., board-certified internist at Hawaii Pacific Health 360 Weight Management Center.
With cold weather comes hot specialty drinks and cocktails (shoutout to flavored lattes, hot toddies, and eggnog). “These beverages may warm you up, but they’re also packed with calories and sugar, and provide little satiety,” says Clark. If you’re trying to shed pounds and craving a hot drink, choose tea most of the time, and treat the fancier drinks like you would desserts—as an occasional indulgence.
When your body’s hiding under seven layers of clothing for months on end, it’s easy to let your healthy habits slide. But losing the visual cues associated with weight management can actually work to your advantage, giving you the chance to focus on how you want to feel instead.
“Those who want to change certain behaviors because it’s genuinely important to them tend to have more success than those who are rewarded through external sources, like wanting to be a certain size,” says Cohen. When you’re bundled up, you might find it easier to focus on the little things that can help you reach your goals—such as increasing your vegetable intake or adding more steps to your day—and lead to major weight and body-composition change, she adds.
Even if we maintain our regular workout habits during a cold snap, we’re more likely to skip out on the smaller day-to-day habits that keep us moving—say, nixing lunchtime strolls—in favor of being cozy and warm, which is a huge metabolism buster, says Dr. Anegawa.
Show winter who’s boss by strutting outside in your warmest attire and maintaining your status-quo activity levels. And instead of lazing around your pad after a long, chilly week, amp up your calorie burn through winter sports, like cross-country skiing. Your metabolism will thank you.