Four Ways to Avoid Winter Weight Gain

Helpful tips from a health coach on how to beat the winter blues and everything that goes with it.

winter exercisersWinter ice skaters photo via Shutterstock

Even though we live in the 21st century, our bodies are still hardwired to function like our pre-historic ancestors. And for our survival, that still means that our body responds to colder weather (much like we’re experiencing now) by storing a bit more fat. This survival mechanism, along with the holidays, and less activity in general, can contribute to a few extra pounds on the scale. But, that doesn’t mean that we can’t take proactive measures to minimize winter weight gain and maintain a healthy weight, especially throughout the holidays. Here are some ways that you can optimize your metabolism during the winter:

1. Get as much sunlight as possible.

The lack of vitamin D from sun exposure can not only contribute to seasonal affective disorder (SAD, or the winter blues), but can also lower metabolism since vitamin D is an important contributor to thyroid hormone production.

How to catch some rays in winter: Bundle up and go for a walk throughout the day. Especially when the weather breaks from the blistering cold, try to get as much sun exposure as possible. Outdoor activities like skiing, ice skating, and snowshoeing are great ways to combine exercise with getting out to see the sun. If you work long hours, make a plan to go for a 20 minute walk at lunch.

2. Get plenty of sleep.

Sleep is important any time of year, but it is even more imperative to rest during the cold since winter is a time of hibernation and self-reflection.

How to do it: Although it’s difficult here in Boston, especially with daylight savings, try to wind your day down with the sun as much as possible, or at least slow down your activities.  Try to get your errands done earlier, take an earlier workout class, and strive to get in bed before 10:30 p.m., when our body’s nocturnal circadian rhythm kicks in. When we rest and get more sleep, we are able to release more metabolism boosting hormones like growth hormone.

3. Stick to your strength training workouts three to four days a week.

Strength training workouts increase metabolism boosting hormones like growth hormone and testosterone, both of which help you build muscle and burn fat. We are not as active in winter as we are in the warmer months, so it’s even more important that we stay on track with a workout schedule.

What to do: If you go to a gym, pick classes that focus more on strength training versus cardio, like an interval-based class that combines both. If you workout on your own, focus on doing full-body strength training routines that use compound movements like squats, lunges, pull-ups, and push-ups at least two to four times a week.

4. Enjoy the holidays, then eat mindful in-between.

Even though we may only be celebrating three to four days of actual holidays, for many of us, it ends up being a two month soiree of food, drinks, and desserts. The holidays are meant to be enjoyed and celebrated. So go right ahead. Enjoy the holiday-day events but be sure to stick to your healthy, mindful eating on other days.

How to do it right: Plan your weeks in advance. If you know you have a holiday party to go to on a Saturday night, then stay on track with your healthy meal plan Monday through Friday. Then, indulge a bit on Saturday night. But come Sunday, it’s time to get back on track. If you have multiple events to go to, pick and choose which one is going to be your indulgence, and which one is going to keep you on track. It helps to plan ahead of time and have a mindset of how your week and parties are going to shape up before you even get there.

Between the holidays, colder weather, and darker days, it may seem difficult to avoid winter weight gain. But, by using these strategies, we can overcome our prehistoric tendencies and make it through the winter sans weight gain.—Sirena Bernal

Sirena Bernal is a fitness professional that is passionate about health and wellness. She has more than 8 years experience coaching and training clients. She teaches Pilates classes in Boston and runs an online health coaching business at