Nothing beats getting home to an aroma of a hearty hot meal cooking on the stove. It seems like we are going through one of the coldest Winter season, and what sounds like a solid idea, is seeking comfort in those early morning freshly baked scones, midday slap chips with extra, extra source, freshly steamed dumplings, dipped in a hot stew with extra garlic and perhaps scheduling less outdoor time and trading it with a warm binge-watching session, accompanied by your favourite warm beverage with extra cream on top… as good as this sounds, it may just be the perfect recipe for weight gain and overall unhealthy eating habits.

Registered Dietician and Author, Ria Mojapelo has observed that interestingly, of all the seasons, Winter seems to be the season where weight gain is consciously anticipated by many, even though the other seasons also do contribute to bouts of increased weight. “Winter weight gain can be attributed to both hormonal and evolutionary instincts. There is a plethora of literature that suggests our primitive instincts of surviving the cold weather contribute to our psychological responses in preparation for the Winter season. The body’s physiological response to cold weather has an impact on the hormones that control appetite and hunger which includes the glucocorticoids, ghrelin, and leptin” she explains.

Mojapelo says there are several factors that increase appetite and these include;

Cold Temperature – drops in body temperature require more energy to keep the body warm and as a result, use up glycogen which is stored fat that will require even more energy to replenish the depleted stores, hence the increase in carb-laden foods because of their high energy content.

Dehydration – many people sweat more than they realise in Winter because of the extra warm clothes they wear and as a result, they get dehydrated which often masks hunger, therefore, increases the intakes of energy-rich foods.

Cultural habit – apart from the physiological factors of hormonal changes, there are also psychological factors that influence eating habits during the Winter season. Rooted in most cultures, from childhood, many are taught to associate Winter with warm and hearty meals and as a result comfort food from the cold.

Health and Fitness Consultant and Founder of Apex Wellness Group, Anele Mdemka admits that it’s hard to wake up and generally maintain a healthy lifestyle in Winter and explains that the battle is not only of the body but of the mind. “Call it character building. You are not only fighting the physical elements but also fighting your mind,” he shares.

Here are five measures you can take to get through Winter healthily;

  1. Be Mindful of How Much You Consume.

“Yes, we can all agree that nothing feels better than a warm hearty meal in Winter. We all know the stews, homemade bread, vetkoek (amagwinya), and let’s not forget the loved tripe. However, I need to stress that there is nothing wrong with eating any of these foods,” says Mdemka. He proceeds to explain that we need to learn to be more mindful of how much we consume. “Most of these hearty meals are rich in flavour, which in most cases is a great thing, but could also mean we use a lot of condiments in the making of the food. Some of these condiments could be extremely high in sodium which could, in turn, lead to water retention, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. You cannot out-train a bad diet, but you need not restrict yourself from consuming the foods you love,” he emphasises.

Mojapelo recommends that we plan our mealtimes. “Eat small frequent meals (every 2-3 hours), with snacks in between. Rather grill, boil or steam instead of frying. Choose healthier food options such as low GI starches, high fibre and low-fat foods, fruits, and vegetables as well as nuts,” she adds.

2. Get Moving.

“The formula is simple, be more active. Swim, run, walk, gym, dance, hike – do anything that will get you moving and burning calories. If you burn more calories than what you consume, you will surely see results,” says Mdemka.

Mojapelo adds by pointing out that it is critical to understand the theory of energy homeostasis – that is, energy input, must be equal to energy output. “The energy balance is pertinent for weight management. When you put in energy (from eating high energy foods) and you do little or no exercise (no energy output), then the body stores the excess energy as body fat,” she explains.

“Exercise has an effect on the endorphins, serotonin and dopamine hormones which makes us feel good and less likely to turn to comfort foods. Commit to an exercise program. If hitting the road in the Winter mornings is not feasible, opt to do indoor exercises such as skipping or any aerobic exercise. Whatever happens, be sure to do at least 30 minutes of exercise for weight maintenance and 1hr for weight loss”, she adds.

3. Procrastination And The Snooze Button Are Your Worst Enemy.

“The tip is simple, wake up early. I know, it’s easier said than done, especially when it’s 3°C at 06:00. However, our worst enemy is procrastination and the “snooze” button. Wake up and perhaps have a routine that you can do every morning. The first thing I would suggest is to make your bed – (it’s one task already accomplished, setting your brain up for a productive day ahead). There is no secret, you just have to be strong-willed and possess a certain level of discipline,” says Mdemka.

4. Remember That There’s No Quick Fix.

“Understand that this is a life-long journey. The goal is to build sustainable healthy habits over time. There is no quick fix (unless you go under the knife), but the journey in discovering yourself and your body is what makes it so much sweeter,” Mdemka advises. “Take your time, learn the basic terms that will help you on your journey (calories, BMR, TDEE) and once you understand these terms, you can make more informed decisions when it comes to your food choices,” he adds.

5. Don’t Forget To Hydrate.

“Arguably one of the hardest things to do in Winter is to drink sufficient water. If you struggle to drink water, then perhaps you should EAT it. Yes, EAT your water. Foods that are high in water content include broccoli, grapefruit, watermelon, peaches, oranges, celery, pineapples, bell peppers, lettuce and cucumber. A formula to calculate how much water you should be consuming on a daily is; minimum, (30ml x Weight in ‘kg’) and maximum, (35ml x Weight in ‘kg’). Granted a few pieces of watermelon or pineapple won’t quench your thirst, but they go a long way in hydrating the body. They’re also great sources of vital vitamins, and minerals,” Mdemka concludes.

Now that you know what influences weight gain in Winter, and how to manage your increased appetite, remember that everything should be done in moderation. Like Anele Mdeka says, “The challenge goes beyond just what you eat, it’s now a battle of will and discipline,” and once you’ve conquered that, there won’t be that much ‘summer body’ catching up to do.