Winter is the season for celebration. Back in December, you likely enjoyed fresh baked goods, hot chocolate, and candy canes. Then came New Year’s Eve, which you may have celebrated over late-night hors d’oeuvres and bottles of bubbly. More time spent on the couch as outdoor temperatures plummeted likely followed, and now, you’re regretting not signing up for that gym membership on January 1, after all.
Winter weight gain is a real thing, according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). But when it comes to your widening waistline, that might not be all that’s going on. “There are many reasons a person’s weight can fluctuate, including genetics, behavior, appetite signals, and your environment. It’s not something to freak about,” says Ted Kyle, a pharmacist and health advocate in Pittsburgh.
Factors that affect your weight will change throughout your life, says B. Gabriel Smolarz, MD, the medical director of Novo Nordisk in Plainsboro, New Jersey. “You may have worse sleep in your thirties, or more stress in your forties and fifties,” he says. “These things may impact the way you gain or lose weight over time.”
And simply being female makes your weight more likely to fluctuate. “Menstrual cycles and pregnancy can result in fluctuations both up and down in weight,” notes Alicia Blittner, RDN, a nutritionist in Mamaroneck, New York.
If weight gain is a concern, it’s worth following up with a healthcare provider who understands how human physiology regulates body weight, says Kyle. “In particular, board-certified obesity medicine physicians have the credentials to show that they have this understanding. Once you figure out how your own body works, you can start to figure out how to deal with [weight gain] in a healthy way.”
And if it’s any consolation, “balancing against those factors is the possibility that winter can activate something called brown fat to burn more energy,” he adds, a notion that’s backed up by research.
If you’re still thinking that your winter festivities may have been to blame for extra unwanted weight, read on for the possible culprits — plus, what to do to change those numbers on the scale.
You Indulged a Little Too Much Over the Holiday Season:
Do you feel like you consumed all the sugar cookies and drank all the eggnog in December? “[While] we all know about pressure to eat during the winter holidays, the question of winter weight gain really varies from person to person,” says Kyle. In fact, the aforementioned research in the NEJM reveals that most people only gain about a pound between September and March. “That’s quite a bit less than people assume,” says Kyle. “But over a lifetime, winter weight gain can add up if you gain a pound every year.”
The same actions that can help you maintain your weight can help you shed winter weight gain. “Research has found that the weight gain can be combated by weight-maintenance-related behavior, like self-weighing and enrolling in weight-monitoring programs,” says Blittner.
If your workplace offers WW (formerly Weight Watchers) or a corporate wellness program, consider giving it a go. In a study published in June 2019 in Nutrition and Health, state government employees enrolled in a 10-week weight-gain-prevention program lost about four pounds on average. The program included self-monitoring, weigh-ins, and a team challenge.
Work for yourself or don’t have this type of program available? Find workout and healthy-eating buddies in your area through groups like Meetup. Just make sure to weigh yourself at the same time of day and wearing similar clothing if you’re self-monitoring. And you can always enroll in your own weight-loss challenge through HealthyWage.