How to Avoid Winter Weight Gain

Respect to the wellness-guru types who never miss 6 a.m. spin class regardless of the weather outside. But for most of us, it takes every last shred of willpower to get out of bed on a frosty winter morning. Cold weather and comfort food represent the biggest challenges to maintaining health and fitness gains. But seasonal inertia, which often results in weight gain, a.k.a. the dreaded “winter body,” isn’t inevitable. Here are some health-savvy strategies for avoiding going up a size this winter.

Think ahead.
It sounds so simple: Make a plan. But that’s usually the very thing we fail to do, says Kathleen Trotter, a Toronto-based personal trainer and author of Find Your Fit. For whatever reason, in colder weather most of us go into health-and-wellness hibernation mode. This year, keep your wellness wits about you by establishing a reasonable diet and exercise strategy. And, most importantly, follow it. “The hardest part about any healthy lifestyle is the doing,” says Trotter. “It’s that first 10 minutes of anything. Once you get going, you can push yourself to do it.” If you need a cue or trigger to get your butt in gear, pop in some earbuds and crank the Rihanna. If a blast of RiRi doesn’t cut it, find a workout buddy and pinky-swear to keep each other on track. “It’s about finding what works for you,” says Trotter, who also advises people to set new challenges for themselves to keep things stimulating. Sign up for a 10K or a half-marathon, for example, or hire a personal trainer when you know you need the extra motivation.

Trade workout time for intensity.
Don’t let a tight holiday-season schedule spell doom for your exercise routine. To save time, replace longer, moderate-intensity workouts with shorter, more intense ones, a.k.a. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). During HIIT, you perform an exercise (such as squats) at maximum intensity for a period of time and then take a brief rest (the standard formula is one minute on, 10 to 20 seconds off, for a period of 10 to 20 minutes). Research suggests that HIIT is as beneficial as longer moderate-intensity workouts. “Interval training is a great way to get a similar intensity of a workout but in a shorter amount of time,” says Trotter “Longer is not always better. Intensity makes a serious impact.”

Don’t give in to gluttony.
“I had one cookie, so I might as well have two. I missed one workout, so I might as well miss another and another.” This is the kind of thinking that can snowball in a big way, says Trotter. “You can come back from a couple hundred extra calories one day,” she says, but a few thousand over a few weeks will lead to inevitable (and avoidable) weight gain. You’d be surprised how even the little things, like a splash of Baileys in your morning coffee and dessert with every meal, can add up. Indulge, of course, but do so mindfully. One cookie is fine. Four is a guarantee you’ll be wearing elastic waistbands into April. Follow the “Love it” rule when it comes to treating yourself, says Trotter. “If you’re going to indulge, make sure it’s something you absolutely love. Too many of us have that cookie that we don’t really like just because it’s there.”

Follow the 80/20 rule.
So much comes down to nutrition, says Trotter. “Exercise changes your shape, diet helps you lose the weight.” Trotter advises people who want to maintain their weight to follow the 80/20 rule, i.e., 80 per cent of what you eat should be very healthy—veggies, lean proteins, good carbs—and 20 per cent is everything else. “If you want to lose weight, though, then it’s more like 90/10.” This means a slice of chocolate cake is totally acceptable, as long as you eat your veggies. Also, don’t make the mistake of thinking that comfort food has to be unhealthy. “There are many healthy comfort foods like baked sweet potato and winter squash, roasted veggies like peppers and zucchini,” says Joy McCarthy, Toronto-based holistic nutritionist and author of Joyous Health: Eat & Live Well Without Dieting. “I love roasting a whole organic chicken with herbs and onions. It smells amazing and it is super nourishing.”

Get outside.
Promise yourself that you won’t hide indoors all winter (promise!?). Instead, vow to get out there and get happy. “Being outside exposed to fresh air and daylight boosts our mood via serotonin,” says McCarthy. “Serotonin is an important mood neurotransmitter, but it also helps to regulate our appetite, too. When our mood is boosted, we are far less likely to indulge in sugars and refined carbs, which lead to weight gain.” You don’t need to commit to running on icy sidewalks either—even a short walk is a good place to start.