On average people tend to gain five to seven pounds during the winter months.1
Winter is coming … and so are the extra winter pounds. I sarcastically refer to it as “putting on my winter coat” and it seems the older I get, the more quickly these pounds creep up on me when the weather goes south, hours of daylight dwindle and my diet takes a dive. It's almost like we spend the last weeks of the fall and the first weeks of the winter setting ourselves up for the annual new year’s resolution to lose weight and get in better shape.
The good news is that we’re not alone in this annual struggle. There’s some solid science behind these seasonal fluctuations in our health behaviors and there are ways that we can get through the winter without un-doing all the hard work we put in the rest of the year. We know from research on energy balance that we need to burn calories through physical activity and limit the number of calories we eat to maintain or lose weight. But research also suggests during the fall and winter months, we eat more calories per day and are less active.2-5 The hard truth is that we need to stay the course by finding ways to move more and eat less even through the winter.
Data from many different studies suggest our activity levels change depending on the season.4 For those of us living in the Midwest, this is a no-brainer. There’s limited hours of daylight, it’s cold and blustery and the outdoor activities we enjoy become miserable to participate in. You can’t ride your bike, go for a run, or spend time playing with your kids outside without a fair amount of discomfort - your face freezing off, your hands stinging and your ears aching.
The Buddy System
Going to the gym or heading out into the winter weather for a run gets a little bit easier when you have someone accompanying you. That little bit of external pressure has been shown to improve compliance in exercise programs.6,7 Group exercise classes can also provide this type of social support and most classes are held indoors to avoid the discomfort of exercising in the frigid outdoors.8,9 Who knows, you could uncover your passion for Zumba…
How many people do you see in a day wearing a watch or wristband that counts their steps and the number of calories they’re burning? Those are wearable activity monitors or fitness trackers - You didn’t see many of them a few years ago, but now they’re fairly common and their benefits are supported by science. Studies suggest that in 2015, roughly 10% of the population used an activity monitor and a greater proportion of the people who wore them met the weekly physical activity recommendations.10 There are also positive associations between the use of a wearable fitness tracker and successful weight loss.
It’s crock pot season and although there are healthy options, cold weather makes me crave comfort foods like mac and cheese… Healthy fruits and veggies are out of season and we’ve entered the time of year when holiday parties increase our intake of alcohol and dessert. Studies have observed that our diets change depending on the time of year and much like physical activity, the more we know about our own habits and behaviors, the better prepared we can be when this time of year rolls around.
Let the Scale be Your Friend
Let’s be real…not many of us like stepping on a scale, but the research shows that regular weigh-ins help us maintain a healthy weight. Many studies have shown greater success weight loss when programs include a component of regular self-weighing.11 Frequent trips to the scale have are also effective at preventing weight gain.11 Findings from the Finnish Weight Control Registry showed that over 90% of 184 participants with successful weight loss stepped on a scale at least one time per week while attempting to lose weight and 75% stepped on the scale at least once a week while attempting to maintain weight.12
Keeping Tabs Helps Here Too
Increased monitoring of factors that influence weight help us lose or maintain weight.13 Knowing what you weigh helps, but you also need to know what you're eating. A number of studies have confirmed that positive associations exist between those who regularly log their food and those who lose weight.13,14 It also appears that frequency is key - the more an individuals adheres to logging diet and tracking physical activity, the greater their success at losing weight.14 Technology has helped make this easier. People who use their cell phones to track their diet are more successful at sticking with it - and there are a number of free apps that help us record info in real time.
It all comes back to identifying our habits and behaviors that might need a little help. If we’re not tracking, it’s hard to know how we can improve and set realistic goals for ourselves. Simply put, if we don’t know how much we weigh, how do we know if we’ve lost weight? If we don’t know how active we are, how do we know that we maintained or increased our activity? If we don’t know what we eat in a day, how can we watch what we’re eating?
The data is clear that self-awareness is key. So get on board with self-tracking, or deliberately and regularly collecting measurable data on yourself. Over 70% of Americans are tracking some aspect of their health and 87% of those individuals are trying to track weight, diet or exercise.14
Data shows that setting a routine can help you reach your weight loss goals, and those who achieve long-term success often form and maintain healthy habits. Perhaps the easiest habit to form is taking a daily supplement to support your nutrition. Kemin develops plant-based supplement and health food ingredients that can help you reach your weight loss or fitness goals - even in the winter.
Tea-based XSurge™ contains polyphenols that act as antioxidants to reduce post-exercise muscle soreness so you can hit the gym day after day. Potato-sourced Slendesta ® contains a natural protein that signals fullness in the body to control your hunger between meals.
Want to learn more about Kemin's functional ingredients? Fill out the form to the right!
Emily Pankow, Ph.D. is the Technical Services Manager for Kemin's Active Wellness Platform.
She graduated from South Dakota State University with her Ph.D. in Nutrition, Exercise and Food Science and is an ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist.
Prior to coming to Kemin she served as an Assistant Professor of Exercise Science at Simpson College in Indianola, IA and continues to develop her passion for health and fitness through her work at Kemin.
1. Lawrence J. Cheskin M, FACP. 5 tips to avoid winter weight gain. https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/5-tips-to-avoid-winter-weight-gain2003.
2. Ma Y, Olendzki BC, Li W, et al. Seasonal variation in food intake, physical activity, and body weight in a predominantly overweight population. European journal of clinical nutrition. 2006;60(4):519-528.
3. Shahar D, Yerushalmi N, Lubin F, Froom P, Shahar A, Kristal-Boneh E. Seasonal variations in dietary intake affect the consistency of dietary assessment. European journal of epidemiology. 2001;17(2):129-133.
4. Pivarnik JM, Reeves MJ, Rafferty AP. Seasonal variation in adult leisure-time physical activity. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2003;35(6):1004-1008.
5. Van Staveren WA, Deurenberg P, Burema J, De Groot LC, Hautvast J. Seasonal variation in food intake, pattern of physical activity and change in body weight in a group of young adult Dutch women consuming self-selected diets. International journal of obesity. 1986;10(2):133-145.
6. Courneya KS, McAuley E. Cognitive mediators of the social influence-exercise adherence relationship: A test of the theory of planned behavior. Journal of behavioral medicine. 1995;18(5):499-515.
7. Courneya KS, Plotnikoff RC, Hotz SB, Birkett NJ. Social support and the theory of planned behavior in the exercise domain. American Journal of Health Behavior. 2000;24(4):300-308.
8. McAuley E, Wraith S, Duncan TE. Self‐efficacy, perceptions of success, and intrinsic motivation for exercise. Journal of applied social psychology. 1991;21(2):139-155.
9. Buckworth J, Lee RE, Regan G, Schneider LK, DiClemente CC. Decomposing intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for exercise: Application to stages of motivational readiness. Psychology of Sport and Exercise. 2007;8(4):441-461.
10. Omura JD, Carlson SA, Paul P, Watson KB, Fulton JE. National physical activity surveillance: Users of wearable activity monitors as a potential data source. Preventive Medicine Reports. 2017;5:124-126.
11. Shieh C, Knisely MR, Clark D, Carpenter JS. Self-weighing in weight management interventions: a systematic review of literature. Obesity research & clinical practice. 2016;10(5):493-519.
12. Soini S, Mustajoki P, Eriksson JG. Weight loss methods and changes in eating habits among successful weight losers. Annals of Medicine. 2016;48(1-2):76-82.
13. Pourzanjani A, Quisel T, Foschini L. Adherent use of digital health trackers is associated with weight loss. PloS one. 2016;11(4):e0152504.
14. Abril EP. Tracking Myself: Assessing the Contribution of Mobile Technologies for Self-Trackers of Weight, Diet, or Exercise. Journal of Health Communication. 2016;21(6):638-646.
15. Mariappan A, Bosch M, Zhu F, et al. Personal Dietary Assessment Using Mobile Devices. Proc SPIE. 2009;7246.
16. Six BL, Schap TE, Zhu FQM, et al. Evidence-Based Development of a Mobile Telephone Food Record. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2010;110(1):74-79.