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Article By: Mackenzie T. Egan
The end of the holiday season typically ends with an extra five pounds around the waist, hips, or butt paired with lower self-esteem than what we went into the season with. Studies have shown that, on average, people tend to gain anywhere between five and eight extra pounds on the scale that just do not want to quit. There are three main causes of this unexplainable, unwanted, and obnoxious winter weight gain: too much sleep, lack of sunlight, and the mixture of holiday eating and less exercise. No matter the cause, though, it’s easier than you think to either get rid of or tone up that extra poundage!
By now, we all know that an average of eight hours a night are needed to maintain brain function and keep us feeling spry. Whether it’s making it easier to focus on classes or get to work on time without that fifth cup of coffee, sleep makes it easier for us to do our day-to-day tasks and keeps us on point. But too much sleep can cause serious health problems including weight gain. Sleeping more than nine hours a night has been scientifically proven to increase weight gain. More than nine hours or less than seven makes us crave calorie dense foods and makes it harder to be active. For those of us who are predisposed to being overweight, sleeping more than nine hours a night can actually increase the risk of running that number up on the scale.
In the winter, we tend to sleep more because of there are fewer natural light hours in the day, meaning that by 5:00, when the sun is setting around 4:00, our bodies’ natural response is to be ready for bed. To combat this desire to go to bed earlier and possibly sleep more than what our Goldilocks zone requires (the seven to nine-hour window where we should be sleeping), try getting up earlier.
Start your routine an hour earlier and include a light morning workout. There are apps, like WorkoutForWomen, to help you get started. Studies have shown that getting up earlier—especially when the winter sun’s cycle has us feeling sluggish in the evenings—has decreased the average weight gain between November and December from around eight pounds to three. While it doesn’t completely combat the weight gain, it does take down those pesky numbers on the scale.
That pesky sun again. It’s bad enough that winter weather means colder temperatures and fewer daylight hours, but now studies have shown that the winter sun actually helps our bodies put on more weight. While studies, including one published in 2014 in Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, have proven that when our bodies have to overcompensate for the cold, they burn up more energy and help us lose weight. Hypothetically, people tend to balance out that use of energy with lack of physical activity. We don’t want to go outside—it’s cold and snowy and, let’s face it, taking some time off from the gym makes us feel more relaxed. (Again, in theory—working out actually helps our bodies relax more than watching TV or reading, but that’s a totally different conversation.) That lack of desire to leave the house turns into a lack of activity, which can be one of the leading causes of weight gain.
But, it’s not just the lack of activity that makes our winter weight gain a problem. It’s the fact that we’re not getting enough sunlight. Sunlight actually helps our bodies burn fat—sunlight activates fat cells and the blue waves from sunlight cause fat cells to shrivel up. That means that our bodies actually store less fat when we get long, consistent amounts of sun exposure. In a study done at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, Peter Light, and his colleagues found that exposing patients with type-1 diabetes to sunlight actually helped them lose weight, even during the winter months.
So, to combat our winter weight gains, we need to go outside despite the frigid temperatures. Whether it’s bundling up for an extra jog outside the gym or taking a long walk around the block a couple of times, increasing our sun exposure in the winter might help our bodies lose weight. Sunlight also battles seasonal depression and anxiety disorders and causes the skin to clear up, so no matter how you look at it, getting more sun is a great way to help our bodies during the winter months.
RELATED ARTICLE: 15 WAYS TO STAY FIT IN THE WINTER
Food and Exercise
The last main cause of winter weight gain has to do with the old and tired reason why we can’t seem to shake that last five pounds: overeating despite under exercising. During the holidays, that hazy time period between mid-November and early January, we have a tendency to overeat. Between the big holiday feasts and the seemingly never-ending supply of sweets, those of us with a sweet or savory tooth suffer. We eat too much and use the weather as an excuse to not work out and often find ourselves with tighter-fitting jeans.
Cutting sugary drinks out of our diets is one great way to lose, or help keep off that pesky five pounds, but adding fats to your diet (butter, avocado, coconut or olive oil) will actually help you out here. Don’t count calories, girl, that’ll just make you miserable; instead, keep to balanced diets with carb high vegetables, a protein at every meal, and a fat. Eating this way is healthier for you both physically and mentally. And my favorite diet tip: drink coffee and tea. Caffeine helps kick start your body and if you’re in need of that fifth cup at the office don’t feel guilty about it, it’ll make the weight loss mission smoother.
And lastly, exercise. Go to the gym three to four times a week or work out at home for at least thirty minutes every day. Whether you use apps or trainers at the gym, adhering to workout plans helps regulate your body, burn extra fat, and has a habit of helping with depression, insomnia, and anxiety.
That five pounds or so you put on around Christmas? By April it’ll be gone! Just remember to take care of yourself, get enough sleep, and try to sneak outside for some time in the sun, even if it’s not more than ten minutes a few times a day. Treat your body now like you would if it was the middle of the summer and you’ll feel better off for it. And embrace yourself. Love your body for what it is, no matter its size, shape, or color. Five pounds heavier or not, it’s you, and loving yourself is the first step to a better and healthier life.