How to Lose That Extra Winter Weight

Three approaches to losing weight now that it's summer.

scale(Photo via ThinkStock.)

This time of year, I often step on the scale and take an inventory of the damage, as in, how much weight I gained during those dark winter months. Often, I find I’ve added between five and ten pounds since the fall. Like many athletes, I have to decide how best to approach my softer self. In the past, I’ve felt guilty, as though I somehow failed during the winter and now I need to start succeeding. I find this mindset is faulty, though. Especially as I get older and I notice this annual pattern, where I gain a few pounds from November to March, and I lose them by September, I realize that I haven’t done anything wrong. This may just be my natural circadian rhythm.

Let’s face it — our bodies can’t always be in tip-top shape. That’s why training goes in cycles, building toward race day. The same is true with weight loss. Having a few extra pounds during buildup training phases may actually be beneficial when it comes to utilizing stored fats as fuel. When it comes to extra long distance training (three hours or more), the body is likely to tap into these resources.

To get ready for a big race, or (more commonly) to get in shape for a summer wardrobe, there are basically three approaches: 1) purposeful dieting, 2) increase in exercise regimen or 3) unconscious weight management. Read more about each approach here:

Purposeful Dieting: Choose to cut something from your diet. Let’s say dessert, or coffee, or soda. Fill in the blank for your particular vice of empty calories, and you get the idea. This concept is flawed, in my opinion, because there is a reason we all gravitate toward our vice in the first place Without a sense of indulgence or pampering, we tend to feel repressed and victimized. There are only so many rice cakes anyone can eat before craving a handful of potato chips instead.

Increase in Exercise: Increasing the intensity or duration of workouts solely for the purpose of burning calories has its merits, but doesn’t seem quite right, either. The reason to train should be to improve and grow as an athlete — and to learn what the body responds to so an athlete can improve performance. If the body is tired during a workout because of pushing too hard during a rest day, then those extra calories burned are actually a detriment to overall health and fitness. More importantly, if the body doesn’t replenish the energy demands of extra running, then the quality of the next workout is likely to suffer.

Unconscious weight management. Pay a little more attention to how hungry you get and how much you eat at one sitting. It turns out, hunger is the reason most people overeat. Knowing that you’re going to get hungry every four hours, you can pack a snack with 200-500 calories. You can still eat ice cream, cake, or whatever your vice, but you might choose to eat one scoop instead of two or limit the size of scoops. For me, if I don’t gorge on junk or get so hungry that I feel the need to over-indulge, I find this tends to balance my calorie intake. Then, as my training naturally increases in building toward race day, I find that the weight dwindles on its own.

In my experience, the best approach to losing a few pounds is to develop an evenness between the calories burned and calories consumed, and worry about the winter weight one small(er) scoop of ice cream at a time.