Cold weather is enough to make you exercise less, ditch the salads in favour of hot, hearty and often high-kilojoule meals, and take comfort in the fact that you can hide behind bulkier clothing.
Whatever the reason, a tendency to gain weight when the weather turns cold is a scientifically proven phenomenon, with a study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism finding that, in winter, a person’s weight creeps up by about 0.5kg.
It doesn’t sound like much until you learn that the weight doesn’t always disappear in summer and, according to US researchers, the half-a-kilo-each-winter accumulates year after year.
But you don’t have to succumb to the statistics. Based on the very latest research, here are some winter-proof-your-weight tips and tricks. With a bit of luck, you might even be able to lose a few kilos in the lead up to summer.
Stock your pantry with ‘smart’ carbohydrates
It’s good advice whatever the weather, but because winter can induce a craving for carbs, plan ahead. According to the experts, a cold weather hankering for carbohydrates happens as a natural reaction to falling levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that influences mood and is less ‘available’ to the brain during the winter months.
Choose wholegrains wherever possible. These take longer to digest than refined carbohydrates, so you’ll feel fuller for longer. Swap white rice for brown, use wholemeal pasta instead of white, eat dark ‘seedy’ breads and opt for a wholegrain breakfast cereal
Eat oily fish
A rich source of long-chain omega-3s, essential fatty acids have been shown to help regulate the brain’s serotonin levels. But apart from keeping carbohydrate cravings at bay, there’s another reason to keep levels stable — Texan researchers say that by activating certain brain neurons and blocking others, serotonin can also curb your appetite.
Dietitian Dr Dianne Volker says the average Australian should consume 500mg of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids a day or 3500mg a week — which means eating three fish meals a week or using supplements to give levels a top up. “But not all fish is created equal,” says Volker, “and the ‘three meal’ recommendation relies on eating oily fish, like sardines, mackerel and salmon.”
A 75g serve of canned pink salmon contains 772mg, 85g of canned sardines in oil contains 1700mg and a 150g fillet of fresh Atlantic salmon contains 824mg
Take advantage of the sun when it shines
Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones, but it can also affect weight loss. US researchers say that when your vitamin-D levels drop so does your ability to keep your weight in check, even when you restrict kilojoules. Research shows that during winter, 50 percent of Australian women have vitamin-D levels that are considered inadequate to prevent osteoporosis.
Keep your levels topped up during winter — in northern parts of the country, you’ll get enough vitamin D from the sun just by going about your day-to-day activities, but in southern States, you may need two to three hours of sunlight spread over a week. And remember that most Australians need sun protection when the UV Index hits three or above.
Read food labels in the supermarket
University of Washington scientists discovered that when people become label readers, so that they understand the nutritional make-up of a product when they first buy it, they’re more likely to keep control of their weight.
What should you look for? Low saturated fat, so that a food has less than 1.5g per 100g serve, rather than low fat overall, is a good place to start.
“Remember that many processed, low-fat foods have a high sugar content to make up for the taste loss that the reduction in fat can create, and are, therefore, still high in kilojoules,” says Sharon Natoli, dietitian and director of Food & Nutrition Australia. “So it’s really important to read your labels.”