Shared from Forbes
It’s winter again, and I know my body doesn’t really need an extra thousand calories a day. Yet, hunger strikes anyways as I find myself constantly eating too much and working out less—if that’s even possible. As it turns out, according to a recent study by University of Exeter in the U.K., “People have evolved to have subconscious urges to over-eat, and limited ability to avoid becoming obese, especially in winter.” While we may be genetically disposed to overeat and store more fat during the winter months, there are other causes for overeating that we could actually do something about them. So I reached out to two health experts and found some of those main culprits (plus solutions).
#1: WE’RE COLD
When internal temperature drops, the body burns more calories to fight the cold. Our mind tells us to throw on an extra layer of clothing, and yes sometimes, grab a calorie-loaded hot food or drink such as double chocolate chip cookies and white chocolate mochas. More easily than ever, mindful eating goes right out the window in our attempts to avoid the shivers.
SOLUTION: To warm up without consuming too many calories, try drinking hot teas, specifically spicy teas and broth-based soups loaded with beans and vegetables. Coffee works too, as caffeine naturally boosts metabolism and warms the body from the inside out. Just remember to control the amount of cream and sugar. If you are unwilling to opt for skim milk, two tablespoons of half and half in an 8oz cup should be your max.
#2: WE’RE LESS ACTIVE
Since most of us do whatever we can to avoid the chilly outdoors, we’re less likely to maintain an exercise routine and more likely to decrease movement in general. Whether it’s the colder temperatures, the shorter days, or the more forgiving appearance of our warm winter wardrobes, the tendency is to eat more too. The less active we are, the more likely we are to fill that gap in time with eating…too much.
SOLUTION: Although trying to maintain an exercise routine may be the best (but relatively less attainable) course of action, there are creative ways to keep the body moving. Bundle up and walk those extra blocks, pick up the take-out instead of settling for delivery, and opt for stairs whenever possible. Bearing in mind that staying active could improve mental and physical health, perhaps the visual imagery of the tight-jeans look could help you power through the winter sluggishness. If you find yourself too unmotivated to move, at least trick yourself to feeling full by eating sensibly, and incorporating complex carbohydrates such as oats, barley, brown rice and whole grain breads into your diet.
#3: WE’RE DEHYDRATED
Believe it or not, we actually sweat as much in winter as we do during other seasons. Due to the drying heat of the radiators, overdressing and bundled layers of clothing, our bodies can easily become dehydrated. This could easily lead to overeating (not to mention colds and other winter-associated illnesses) as the body’s response to dehydration is often confused with feelings of hunger.
SOLUTION: While the best way to avoid dehydration is to drink a minimum of eight cups of water each day, warm teas and soups could count towards the daily fluid intake and help regulate body temperature. Watch out for the signs and symptoms of dehydration, including thirst, headaches, muscle cramping, and urine that's darker in color and lower in volume.
#4: WE SUFFER FROM THE WINTER BLUES
There’s something about the post-holiday season or the disgusting weather that makes a recipe for sadness. Though only a small percentage of individuals actually suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) (depression that is linked to changes in seasons), many people who experience a period of despondency are likely to seek comfort from food, calorie-dense foods at that.
SOLUTION: Rather than sitting on the couch and polish off a box of chocolate, consider hitting the gym, bundling up and taking long walks (activities that releases endorphins which makes you happy). Additionally, track meals and snacks with a food or activity tracker like My Fitness Pal. Since eating out of sheer boredom is a tough pattern to kick, tracking your intake could help identifying some of your weaker moments to make changes accordingly. But if you notice signs of depression such as feelings of hopelessness, changes in sleeping patterns and emotional eating, consult a doctor immediately for treatment options.
#5: WE BELIEVE THAT WE’D GAIN WEIGHT
Many of us go into winter already believing that we would gain weight, so it’s inevitable that we’d set ourselves up for failure, or, in other words, overeating. This type of thinking is especially damaging, since how we think and feel dictates the food we choose. For instance, someone in a bad mood may choose chocolate, while someone in a good mood may choose strawberries. Hence, the theory is that a positive mindset could help us control our eating and make healthier food choices.
SOLUTION: Prepare your mind for positive thinking. Now that you know some of the main reasons why we overeat, plan your meals and daily workouts are helpful in building that mindset. But to really believe that you could avoid gaining weight, you could do something as simple as telling yourself that you can to minimizing the scenarios that would lead to overeating. For some people, joining a support group with close friends may be helpful, while others may engage themselves with hobbies that aren't food-related. Self-motivation is key. Because let’s face it, your sweater can’t really hide everything.