It’s winter and that means more eating, less moving. This is due to a potent mix of the weather making the outside seem miserable and the inside seeming like the coziest alternative. I notice this in my own habits. During the summer I can’t help but be outside basically all day. Between the dog needing run, rock climbing, hiking, and swimming, workouts become ingrained into my routine during the warmer months.
During the winter those habits are hard to maintain. It just gets harder to be outside for any length of time, especially without the proper gear which can be expensive. Even if you are intentionally carving out time in the day to get outside, winter ends up being a less active time of the year. Winter is also a time that the general population ends up putting on a little more weight. We can blame this on holiday feasting, less activity, seasonal depression, many factors pop up in Winter that lead to weight gain. For someone that is trying to lose excess pounds this can appear in the form of a weight loss plateau. No matter how hard you try there are those last few pounds that just won’t disappear. Here are some areas to look at that may be holding back progress.
This is a habit that somehow gets easier to do in the Winter. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s the early sunset, or the bored snacking that happens when we sit inside for extended periods of time. Either way this is something that we should be mindful of at all times of the year. Often we are eating in the form of excess calories and not regular meals late at night. We then run into problems because we are not eating due to increased activity resulting in the energy being stored as body fat. Our metabolism is being damaged from not giving it a length of time longer than while we are asleep to reset itself. What used to be a myth is now being confirmed in studies.
- A study compared two groups of adults. One group ate the bulk of their calories earlier in the day, the other later in the day. The group that ate later on had impaired fat metabolism, higher fasting glucose, frequent insulin spikes, and unfavorable triglyceride to cholesterol levels. Those are all cause of weight gain and metabolic damage.
Try getting in your last meal at least two hours before you go to bed. This will let your metabolic processes get the most out of your food before going to bed. It will also let melatonin, the sleep hormone, rise in your blood stream at the right time. Eating suppresses melatonin and will result in trouble going to sleep or poor quality of sleep.
Get More Movement In
As I stated before, less movement is a hallmark of winter for most of us. Except for the winter athlete that enjoys skiing, snowshoeing, and other winter activities, the majority of the population simply stops moving as much. Less slow aerobic movement like walking means impaired fat metabolism and more of a likelihood to store fat. This combined with higher caloric intake is a recipe for weight loss stalls or weight gain.
A strategy I like to employ is simple. Work with the seasons not against them. Use the warmer weather as a chance to get outside and get more aerobic movement in through hiking, running, walking, swimming, rock climbing, anything that involves moving around at a slower pace. That, combined with intuitive strength training will keep you more than in shape.
The Winter demands different tactics. If we are not moving a lot outside we simply have to find ways to do it inside. I like to use winter as a chance to focus more on strength training. Get that gym membership you’ve been thinking about signing up for. If I’m going to consume excess calories I want them to go to good use and be synthesized into lean muscle mass. They call winter “bulking season” for a reason. Try getting in 2-3 sessions of strength training in a week and by the end of winter you will have put on some muscle mass instead of stored fat.
This study showed that strength training raises resting metabolic rate, increases the amount of fat-free mass, and increases norepineephrine (feel good chemical) levels.
Use the winter as a time to build in movement into your day! I like to take a break every hour or two to do one of the following.
- Do some kettle bell swings. Nothing beats this movement for increasing your heart rate, strengthening the posterior chain, and it all it takes is 50 or so repetitions with a bell.
- Work on some body weight movements. I’ll do a quick set to failure of squats, push ups, pull ups, or a plank.
- Take a quick walk outside! You can handle a little cold…..
I hate to be the “eat less carbs” guy, but there is something to be said about seasonal eating. Take a look at how some of our ancestors would have eaten. In the summer berries and fruits would have been more plentiful. Obviously this would have been the only time of the year to consume these carbohydrate rich energy dense foods. We offset this by the increased activity that comes with summer. During the winter, animals would have been the main food around. This would have resulted in a sort of “seasonal ketosis”, where in part of the year we were consuming much less of our calories from carbohydrate.
When we eat less carbohydrate we teach our body to become “fat adapted”. Basically we get really good at burning fat for fuel. Eating less carbohydrate results in fewer spikes in blood glucose, which means insulin is not rising as frequently to shuttle nutrients into fat storage.
How does this apply to winter? Well, we simply are not putting as much of a demand on our bodies in the cold months. If we still give it the same carbohydrate rich fuel that we would in the summer, we will quickly start storing that energy as fat. There needs to be a good reason to consume excess carbohydrates, and moving less is not a good reason!
- Try focusing more on protein and fat. Combine all of these tips into a single day and see how you feel.
- Eat the bulk of your food earlier in the day. Start off with a breakfast with plenty of protein and fat to keep you full, and stay away from carbohydrates. Think steak, eggs, and avocado, not toast, muffins, and pancakes.
- Stay away from sugars and fruits that are out of season. They are less nutritious than in season ones, and provide a completely unnecessary load of sugar that could be replaced with more nutritious meat or vegetables.
Thats it for this week! Leave any comments or questions below, and don’t forget to sign up below for the newsletter for a free copy of our eBook, 3 Elements of Lifelong Health!
Elliot Steele is a Primal Health Coach based in Chelan WA. He strives to empower those looking to regain their health after a lifetime of misinformed practices. This is the essence of Steele Back Your Health, to truly learn how to be healthy with sustainable habits. Check out the coaching and blog page for more info!