Winter is a time when people go outside less, become less active and eat more food. It’s easy to find excuses to avoid exercise when it’s cold and miserable outdoors. There’s also less daylight hours, which can discourage people from being active. We wear big jackets and cover up to keep warm, which can make us less conscious or concerned about weight gain. One could also argue that the storage of fat give us extra warmth and energy. But we do have access to a wide array of technology, equipment and information that can help prevent winter weight gain.
The following are six strategies which can help you stay motivated during winter and stick with your healthy eating and exercise routine.
See the light
Bad weather and a lack of sunlight in winter can reduce the brain’s level of the hormone serotonin, which may trigger a mild form of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is characterised by a lack of energy, increased eating, longer sleep and weight gain. That lack of sunlight can leave you feeling depressed and reaching for comfort foods, especially in the colder months when you are less likely to go outside.
One of the best ways to counteract SAD is by spending more time outdoors in the fresh air. Open the windows and curtains and let the sun shine in. Even better, get outside and do some walking, gardening or jogging. Other types of exercise that might appeal include bush walking, cycling or sports such as tennis, soccer or softball. It will warm you up, help you prevent winter weight gain and keep you feeling fresh.
Plan your meals in advance
Winter can often be an impulsive time for meal selection where people grab quick and easy foods that are warm and filling. On the other hand, planning your meals in advance is a great tool to help improve your diet and lose weight.
Weight loss is just like any other aspect of your life, in that the more planning and preparation you do, the more likely you are to succeed. Don’t make decisions about what you are going to eat at the last minute. Without a good meal plan, you are left to hunt and gather food in the modern world, and it will be harder to find healthy food choices if you aren’t prepared.
Being organised helps you to avoid a last minute crisis and makes it much easier to stick to a healthy eating plan. In fact, meal planning can reduce some of the stress that is associated with cooking and make meal time more enjoyable. Having healthy foods close at hand for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks will reduce the chances of grabbing junk on the run.
Should you exercise with a cold or flu?
Colds and flu are commonplace during winter, but it doesn’t have to wreak total havoc on your fitness routine. Some physical activity when you’re sick can be all right, but there are times when exercise can make things worse. The best way to determine whether you should go to the gym or go to bed is the extent and location of your symptoms. You will need to give yourself a “neck check.” If your symptoms are from the neck up, such as a sore throat, then it’s OK to exercise. Physical activity won’t slow down your recovery, as long as you don’t elevate your heart rate and body temperature too much. If your symptoms are below the neck, such as a tight chest, then your body needs rest. Exercising with major cold symptoms, particularly a fever, will prolong your illness and can be dangerous. Physical activity will compromise your immune system as the body focuses on energy production and muscle function instead of fighting the illness. If your oral temperature is at or over 37.5°C, your body is fighting an infection, and needs rest to recover. Listen to your body, and take comfort that you won’t lose any conditioning by taking a few days break.
Lighten up on the hot beverages
The cooler weather may increase your consumption of hot beverages, which in turn can have an impact on your weight:
When you begin to add sugar, milk and even cream to your beverage, the kilojoule and fat content escalates dramatically.
Foods that often accompany hot beverages such as biscuits, donuts, cakes, pastries and desserts, are high in kilojoules and fat.
Depending on the quantity of hot beverage you drink, you might cut back on the sugar, or have it just with skim milk, and eliminate or cut back on the fatty treats you have with it.
Sip on soup
One of the best ways to reduce the kilojoule content of your food intake and lose some weight in winter is to consume a lot of soup. Just make sure to avoid cream-based soups that are loaded with fat and kilojoules. Ideal for lunch, dinner or even as a snack, a thick, hearty soup can be very satisfying.
Soup is low in kilojoules because of its high water content, yet it’s usually served hot, so people tend to eat it slowly and feel full afterwards. Studies have shown that a starter of tomato soup was highly successful at cutting down on subsequent food intake. Soup is also a great time saver, because you can make large batches and re-heat it quickly, or freeze the leftovers. Load your soup up with legumes, vegetables and a little vegetable stock, and flavour with nutritious herbs, spices and condiments. If you have bread with your soup, avoid butter or margarine, choose wholegrain bread and keep your portions small.
Have indoor exercise options
Often when it’s cold and miserable outside, we don’t feel like going to the gym or even going out the front door for that matter. It’s going to help you stay on track if you have some exercise options that you can perform indoors. If you feel warm and comfortable, you’ll be less likely to find excuses to avoid exercise.
Some ideas include the use of exercise equipment such as the treadmill or exercise bike, which can even be set up in front of the television to make the time go by faster. There’s also a wide variety of exercise DVDs that target specific body parts, or that incorporate movements from pilates and aerobics.
Another great option is to set up your own in-house circuit, which is a combination of strength training and cardiovascular exercises using minimal equipment.
You can vary the duration and repetition ranges as you progress, and add different exercises depending on what equipment you have at home.
Indoor circuit example
- 2 minutes of skipping
- 1 set of 20 lunges
- 1 set of 20 push ups
- 2 minutes of jogging on the spot
- 1 set of 20 sit ups
- 1 set of 20 chair dips
- 2 minutes of step ups
- 1 set of 20 squats
- 1 set of 20 calf raises
- 2 minutes of star jumps
Use the buddy system
Making changes and sticking to them is always easier with company. See if you can find a friend or family member who enjoys exercise, and schedule a few workouts together each week. It’s a lot friendlier on your hips than catching up over afternoon tea.
Having a training partner gives you an outside source of motivation, encouraging and supporting you, and making your exercise more enjoyable. Having someone else depend on you makes it harder to skip a workout. This type of accountability is much more likely to make you stick with your exercise routine during winter. Try to find someone with the same goals and a similar level of fitness as yourself. An equally fit training partner will challenge you to keep up the pace on days when you are a little off, while you can push them if they are slacking. A person who is a positive influence on your motivation can really keep you moving forward.