Does cold weather make you gain weight? Well, thanks to the short days and long nights of winter that bring comfort and coziness, we tend to overindulge and pile on a few extra pounds of 'insulation'. It’s been estimated that we gain an average of 2-4 pounds during the colder months, and to be honest, no one wants to end up with an over-exhausted and stuffed body in January, feeling like you have to go on one of those 'New Year, New You' crash diets (1).
With cold and flu symptoms spreading like crazy, here are helpful tips you can adopt to help avoid breaking your healthy routines, gaining extra weight all the while keeping your energy up and running:
How to avoid winter weight gain
1. Drink more water to boost your metabolism
While you may not feel like drinking as much water as you do in the summer, it’s just as important to stay well hydrated during the colder months. Often when we think we’re hungry, we’re actually just thirsty. Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day, as well as 1-2 glasses before every meal or snack you have.
Water aids weight loss by helping your kidneys flush out excess toxins and chemicals, which may be slowing down your metabolism if you're not well hydrated. If you have difficulty drinking enough plain water, which should be around 2 litres a day, herbal teas, green tea and lemon in hot water are all just as good! Start your day with a mug of warm water and lemon juice to improve liver function, cleanse and kick-start your digestive system for the day.
2. Choose slow-release carbs
Most people do increase their carbohydrate intake in winter, and that’s perfectly reasonable and natural. However, try to make sure you choose the right carbs. Avoid refined 'fast-release' carbs such as white bread and sugary cereals because they can cause a spike, then a sharp fall in blood glucose levels, creating cravings for sugary foods that make it even more difficult to choose healthy snacks.
Instead go for slow-release carbs with a low glycaemic-index, such as whole-grains, sweet potatoes, beans, pulses and brown rice to avoid gaining weight in winter. Whole-grain rolled oats are also a great choice as well as a hearty bowl of porridge, topped with some fresh berries for your dose of Vitamin C and antioxidants.
Also, rather than counting calories and feeling restricted, aim to fill up on nutritious yet satisfying meals to stop you reaching for junk food and helping ensure you stay on track with your health goals. Why not try things like chunky homemade vegetable soups and stews made with beans and lentils, or a baked sweet potato with a delicious healthy filling? Beans and lentils are packed full of B-vitamins, iron and magnesium, which are all great for energy and are immune-boosting helpers during the winter months.
3. Ditch the comfort food
When winter comes around, it’s tempting to curl up on the couch and binge on stodgy carbs and sweet treats. Far from making you feel good though, typical so-called 'comfort food' can leave you tired, lethargic and moody. To avoid putting on weight, get your sweet fix from fruit and healthy blended smoothies which can help raise your serotonin levels naturally.
How to prevent constantly getting sick during winter
1. Stock up on vitamins and supplements
Whilst nutrition is obviously important, savvy supplementation throughout the winter months can help prepare your body to fight off any infections and fight the flu. It’s worth taking a good multivitamin providing around 100% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of as many vitamins and minerals as possible. There are also a few key vitamins you can target individually – as soon as you feel like you’re coming down with an infection, start taking zinc and Vitamin C, as both have been found to reduce the severity and length of a cold (2).
2. Eat flu-fighting foods
Prevention is always better than a cure, so it’s important to make sure your immune system is working at full capacity to avoid getting constantly sick in winter. Packing your diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables is a great home remedy to make sure you’re getting enough nutrients to stimulate optimum immune function. Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, berries, nuts and seeds, eggs and whole-grains, all contain valuable nutrients that help to enhance your immune function, such as Vitamins C, E and A, folate, iron and zinc.
Vitamin A, especially, is one of the key vitamins to keep topped up to avoid getting sick in winter. It’s known to keep the mucus membranes inside your nose, mouth and throat healthy, which helps stop viruses entering the body in the first place (3). Good sources of Vitamin A include spinach, sweet potatoes, butternut, mango, eggs, and dried apricots.
You can also include natural antibacterial foods in your diet to fight off sickness in winter, which include garlic, Manuka honey and ginger. These all help ward off bacterial infections and are targeted flu-fighting foods. Garlic’s antiviral component, allicin, actually becomes active when chopped, so it’s great to use in cooking – as is coconut oil, which also has antiviral properties.
3. Stay on top of your Vitamin D
Low levels of Vitamin D have been associated with increased fat storage, amongst many other health problems – and the sad reality for us living in England, is that we are all definitely lacking in some good old sunshine. Firstly, Vitamin D deficiency causes the brain to issue hunger-signaling hormones, tempting you to reach for the Digestives and Dairy Milk (4). It may give you an immediate perk but who feels good after that?
Secondly, calcium-rich diets have been found to aid in winter weight loss, but Vitamin D is required to regulate calcium absorption (5). Therefore, you should definitely take a Vitamin D supplement from October to March, if not all year round. Most of us also have a deficiency of Vitamin D in the summer, so loading up on it in the winter is ideal.
4. Eat spicy food to fight colds
Spicing up your meals can help ward off the sniffles. The spices in a curry could have an antiviral effect that will help you avoid getting sick in winter, as well as easing symptoms of a common cold such as sore throats and coughing. Make sure to ditch unhealthy calorie-laden takeaways and make your own homemade dishes instead, adding lashings of turmeric, cumin and chilli to help you stay sniffle-free. Healthy and delicious – what more could you want?
1. US National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4209489/
2. National Institute of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3136969/
3. University of Maryland Medical Center: https://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/vitamin-a-retinol
4. US National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2777281/
5. National Institute of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4010554/