How to Break the Cycle of Seasonal Weight Gain

Fall is the time to pull out the cozy over sized sweaters and comfy leggings - we all do it. The problem is we also tend to hide under those comfy clothes and eat more in the colder months, which leads to inevitable weight gain. Unlike the bear who gains weight to prepare for hibernation, there is no reason why we should stay indoors and hibernate all winter. Challenge yourself to remain active like you do in the summer months by trying new activities that take in the wonder of autumn and winter.

According to Deborah Balfanz, PhD at Stanford University, "despite our worst fears, the average American really only puts on one pound during the holiday season — which doesn’t sound like much, unless you gain that extra pound year after year." Gaining a pound year after year adds up quickly.  As we get older and our metabolism slows down it makes it even harder to take off those extra pounds that slow us down and put us at higher risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes.  This extra weight also has a huge bearing on how we feel about ourselves. So let's take a deeper look into the underlying factors that contribute to this cycle of seasonal weight gain and come up with tips to help us avoid it. 

Approximately 2 percent of the population suffers from a mild form of depression, which is known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD. According to the Cleveland Clinic, this is brought on by the shorter days and colder temperatures. This depression leads us to want "comfort" foods which tend to be higher in carbohydrates and fats. If you think that you suffer from this condition, it's a good idea to consult with your doctor and come up with a strategy to counter the winter blues. 

As for the rest of us, there are many reasons why we tend to eat more in autumn and in winter. These triggers tend to be more behavioral and less biological. They also revolve around our traditions and habits in the colder seasons such as eating junk food while watching football games, over indulging at holiday meals and parties, drinking more alcohol, and reducing our levels of physical activity as we spend more and more time indoors avoiding the cold outside. 

Another contributing factor is the adverse effect of stress upon our appetites.  Fall brings with it the pressures that come with the kids being back in school; juggling hectic schedules, keeping on top of their homework, rushing them to and from extracurricular activities and the added pressures at work. Life can get crazy this time of year and I get it! But... This is the perfect opportunity to break that cycle by becoming mindful of the triggers and habits that cause you to be stressed out.

Allow yourself the permission to not become so busy in the stressful sense this season. We put so much pressure on ourselves and upon our kids to be the very best and to achieve at the highest levels.  We don't have to be perfect. So allow yourself the grace to say, "I can't do it all."  This is not failure. In fact this is a gift that you give to you and your family that will make you all happier and healthier this school year.

Also give yourself and your family the permission to replace activities that you think that you "have to do" but hate, with activities that you love or have always wanted to try. Use these seasons as an opportunity to explore new sports such as hiking, cross country and downhill skiing, indoor cycling, yoga and playing in the snow. In addition, raking leaves and shoveling snow should not be viewed as dreaded chores, but as active ways to enjoy autumn and winter while getting exercise and fresh air. Putting your body into motion not only burns more calories, it also boost your energy and makes you feel great! 

Here are are five things you can do to help you not gain weight this season. Surely there are more great tips, so I would love it if you would share what works for you in the comments below: 

1. Be mindful of portion size of the meals that you eat. Overeating stretches out your stomach, which makes it harder for you to feel full over time. With a larger stomach, it then takes longer for the stretch sensors in your stomach to signal your brain that you are full. Also avoid fatty snacks that are high in carbs, sugars and high fructose corn syrup. Keep fresh fruits and raw veggies around as snacks with a small amount of nuts to go along with them. These healthy foods are packed with fiber and vitamins that will give you energy and keep you feeling full for a longer period of time.  

2. Seek the guidance of a nutritionist or a counselor to help you identify the triggers that cause you to overeat and to help you create healthy new habits. A therapist can also be a great resource if you are an emotional eater. In addition, I coach my clients in the areas of fitness and nutrition so feel free to contact me! I will help you develop a nutrition plan, increase your level of fitness and provide an important point of accountability and encouragement for you.

3. Get involved in an activity that gets you moving at least 3 times a week. As you know, yoga has done wonders for me, helping me stay fit, mindful and happy. Find a physical activity that you love and make it a regular part of your life!

4. Wear tight fitting clothes at least occasionally. This will be your reality check. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, cozy big sweaters and loose leggings hide the fact that we are gaining weight.  If your summer jeans feel overly tight in the winter, use this as motivation to shed the weight that you have recently put on.  By being mindful of your eating and adding a little exercise to your day, you will be please by how quickly you can shed that unwanted weight.

5. Create an art or home renovation project that will keep you focused and give you a positive purpose. Having a creative outlet for yourself can be a great stress reducer and keep you from the type of unhealthy snacking that we tend to do when we are bored.

While you are still feeling good from all of your summer activities, continue to practice mindful eating, reduce stress in your life and stay active this fall and winter. Set yourself up now with winning habits that will help you beat the holiday indulgences! 



PS - Watch this excellent video that will change the way that you look at eating versus exercise for losing weight.  I highly recommend it!