Why You Gain Weight in Winter
If you're anything like most people, you tend to gain weight in the winter. For years we've all just chalked it up to the fact that we're less active and of course, there's all that holiday food! But did you know there are actually several different reasons why people gain weight in winter?
Most of us spend the winter months planning or attending lots of parties and dinners and on top of all that, we run around all over the place trying to find the perfect gift for everyone. We also have to drive on icy, dangerous roads and we worry about slipping on ice or getting the car stuck in a ditch. But what do all of these things have in common? They're stressors. Although the holiday months are a joyful time, they can also be pretty stressful. Stress causes you to have higher levels of a hormone called cortisol, which controls appetite and makes your body store more fat (especially in the abdomen).
And those cravings you get every winter? They're not just in your head. Serotonin, a chemical in the brain that regulates appetite and mood, can drop during the winter months due to shorter days and less sunlight. When your serotonin levels drop it can cause you to have more cravings (especially for carbs). Decreased serotonin can also cause depression which can have several different symptoms. Some depressed people have a tendency to eat less, but some have a tendency to eat more.
Cold weather also messes with your leptin levels. Leptin is a hormone that regulates body weight. But when leptin levels decrease it can cause your body to think it's starving. If your body thinks it's starving it makes more appetite stimulating hormones, which make you want to eat more.
And of course, you're bored! The best part of winter are the holiday dinners and parties. It seems like we spend eternity planning for them, but they sure don't seem to last very long. That means there are a lot of times when the weather is terrible and you have to stay in. The problem with that is that when people are stuck inside all day they want to curl up in front of the TV and eat.
So are we all doomed or is there a way to prevent winter weight gain?
Make sure you get plenty of sleep at night. A lack of sleep is linked to higher cortisol levels. You can also buy a full spectrum light. This is a type of light that helps trick the body into thinking that the days are longer. Being exposed to a full spectrum light can help prevent the drop in serotonin levels that leads to depression. You can usually find them for about $10 and they fit into any lamp.
Don't forget about exercise. If you can't get out to exercise, try to do something indoors. Exercise doesn't just burn calories, it helps relieve stress and helps prevent depression as well.