Longer nights, shorter days, colder weather and decreased exercise can all contribute to winter weight gain1. Add the temptation of rich comfort food, and it’s easy to see why so many of us battle to keep to our health goals during winter1.
According to Dr Riekie Smit, an aesthetic medicine practitioner from Pretoria with a special interest in weight management, women tend to gain an average of between two and four kilograms every winter and generally only lose half of what they gained in the upcoming summer2.
Unless this annual gain is curbed, this pattern will result in gaining more weight every year2. Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves when it is cold outside and opting for comfort food, and then regretting this when summer arrives, Dr Smit recommends that we should all make a conscious effort to eat healthier food and increase our intake of vegetables, especially green ones2. “This will not only keep the weight off, but also keep your immunity levels high,” she says2.
Dr Rosetta Guidozzi, a General Practitioner from Johannesburg, says that in order to boost immunity during winter, it is important to follow a healthy diet including lots of vegetables and citrus fruits. The preparation of foods should be enhanced with herbs such as sage, rosemary, oreganum, coriander and other herbs as they have powerful antioxidant effects as well as being flavour enhancers and can result in eating less. The same applies to spices, such as curry and peri-peri which flavour foods and induce a decrease in eating consumption3.
Clinical psychologist and cognitive behavioural therapist Dr Colinda Linde from Randburg, Johannesburg, also agrees that eating for immunity is important. “Winter tends to be when we get sick, so make sure to include immune boosting foods like citrus, garlic, herbs, mushrooms and a dose of probiotics.
Winter is also a great time for ‘slow food’ – casseroles, soups and stews that are easy to put together, warm and hearty to counter the cold,” she says4.
Although it can be more difficult to exercise in winter, Dr Smit says that if the cold is putting you off your walk or cycle, opt rather for indoor exercise programmes, either at the gym or at home. She says that there are now multiple apps to help you with this2.
Dr Guidozzi reiterates that continuing exercise in winter and eating correctly, which she agrees should include the preparation of healthy stews and soups using lots of herbs and spices, is a priority3. “The trick is to remain motivated during winter,” she says, even if you change the type of exercise you do during the winter months, it is important to at least continue with activity3.
Dr Linde says that while she would definitely recommend including exercise in winter, it is also important to be realistic about it. She recommends possibly starting the day with stretches, which warms you up and can be done on a yoga mat in your bedroom at home. She says in this way you consciously include exercise in your daily routine, with the option to also add something outside of home such as the gym, a walk or a run4.
Dr Guidozzi says that winter can also trigger the “winter blues” in some people, an onset of lowered moods. “To prevent this, it is necessary to exercise and also to spend time outdoors, and absorb the sunlight when one can,” she says, and reiterates the importance of maintaining good sleeping habits3. She says that sleep deprivation will lower immunity and can lead to making less favourable food choices3.
While healthy eating and exercise is important, so too is taking time for yourself. Dr Linde, who is launching the second edition of her book entitled ‘Get the balance right – Coping tips for working moms’, which was first published in 2005, says that winter is associated with hibernation in nature, where animals and many plants slow down, and renew themselves by spring4.
“We have a short winter here, only 3 months really, so it could become an annual stock take, going inward by meditating quietly or journaling for a few minutes daily”, she says. The time saved by putting a stew in the slow cooker can be used to curl up on the couch with a magazine!4
Another tip to remember in winter is to care for your skin, which can become dry and irritated during the winter months3 and can become more prone to dehydration, which can lead to loss of collagen and wrinkling2. Dr Smit recommends using a milk cleanser and rich moisturiser to stay hydrated. Keeping up an adequate intake of water is also essential. “In winter you could opt for hot herbal teas or hot water with lemon or mint leaves,” she suggests2.
Some healthcare practitioners suggest taking a supplement with added Vitamin C and Zinc in winter, although this should not replace a healthy diet, especially a diet which includes fruit and vegetables with adequate Vitamin C2,3. Adding probiotics to your daily routine can also help your immunity to resist viral infections2. Remember also that hand hygiene is vital to avoid germs2.
So instead of only associating winter with comfort eating, hibernation and a bowl of creamy pasta on the couch, spice up your winter menu with healthy vegetable soup, download an app to start getting more active in the comfort of your home and remember that while summer bodies can be made in winter, eating healthy foods, exercising and upping your immunity, can help you to enjoy a healthier winter2,3,4.
Whether in winter, or summer, for some people who are trying to lose weight, their hunger particularly at the start of their weight loss journey, may be too much and hinder their progress. These people might benefit from a prescription medication which, together with appropriate lifestyle adjustments, can help kick start a weight loss journey, or can help someone get back on track5. If you are worried about your weight, speak to your doctor for advice about how to lose or manage your weight.
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- University of Rochester Medical Center. Winter Weight Gain: Why it Happens, What to do (2020) athttps://www.urmc.rochester.edu/patients-families/health-matters/january-2020/winter-weight-gain-why-it-happens-what-to-do.aspx (website accessed 17 February 2020).
- Q&A with Dr Riekie Smit – 13 February 2020 (unpaid)
- Q&A with Dr. Rosetta Guidozzi – 12 February 2020 (unpaid)
- Q&A with Dr Colinda Linde – 11 February 2020 (unpaid)
- Phelan S, Wadden TA. Combining Behavioral and Pharmacological Treatments for Obesity. Obes Res 2002;10(6):560-574