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Winter weight gain: How the weather can impact your weight loss journey

Winter weight gain is common but possible to avoid if you know what to look out for.

How the Weather Can Impact Your Weight Loss Journey | Juniper

As the weather gets colder, we tend to retreat to the comfort of our beds, put the heater on, and eat all our favourite comfort foods. But, if we do this too often, we're also more likely to gain weight during the colder months which can leave us frustrated about our body weight during the summer months.

It's important to remember that weight gain during winter is extremely common, so you're not alone. And there are plenty of scientific reasons why this pattern tends to occur, meaning we can avoid winter weight gain if we know what to look out for.

So, if you're looking to understand how the winter season and gaining weight are associated and what you can do about it, we're rounding up the links between the 2 and giving you plenty of tips and tricks to implement in your lifestyle this winter season.

Is there a link between weather and weight?

There's more to the winter blues than just feeling colder and sleepier. Many of us start to notice more weight gain as we experience shorter days through the cold weather seasons.

In fact, seasonal weight gain can be pretty common, with research showing that weight gain tends to occur more during autumn and winter than in summer, where research participants weighed significantly more in the winter months [1].

But, winter weight gain is also tied to hormones that change in the winter. Research shows that melatonin levels (the hormone involved in our sleep-wake cycle and appetite) are 80% higher during winter. As a result, participants had more disrupted and irregular sleep patterns and higher anxiety levels during winter, which can increase appetite and cause people to eat high-calorie foods [2].

Is it harder to lose weight in winter?

It's no surprise that it can be harder to lose weight in winter. The days are shorter, it's colder outside and we tend to lose motivation when the sun isn't shining bright and making us want to go outside. But, the research actually shows that our metabolism increases in winter but the temptation to stay indoors and eat more food increases, too.

Most of our fat is what's known as white fat, which stores more energy. When there's too much white fat, this can lead to obesity and being overweight.

But, there's also something called brown fat, which is activated in colder temperatures. Brown fat causes a bunch of metabolic changes in the body, including helping the body break down blood sugar and fat molecules to stimulate heat in an attempt to maintain our body temperature [3].

Research shows that the more time we spend in the cold, the more we activate our brown fat [4]. In one study, volunteers who wore a cold suit that reduced their temperature burned an extra 250 calories in a 3-hour period [5]. So, winter is actually a great time to lose weight if we stay active and follow a healthy diet.

But, because we tend to lose our motivation, retreat to our cosy beds and overindulge in warm comfort foods, we can often counteract the positive benefits of the winter months in helping us lose weight.

What causes winter weight gain?

There are a bunch of different factors why winter weight gain is common among many people, from the tendency to eat more foods that bring us comfort to changes in hormone levels due to shorter days and less exposure to sunlight.

Increased eating

Feeling yourself starting to crave comfort foods in winter? You're not alone.

Some studies show that winter weight gain and increased eating habits can be influenced by the hormone changes occurring in the colder months. A 2019 study found that leptin levels (the hormone that triggers the feeling of fullness) are increased in warmer months and decreased in colder months [6].

Plus, shorter days and limited sunlight are other factors that can impact winter weight gain where research shows sunlight impacts the release of the hormone serotonin (a.k.a the mood-boosting hormone). When we're not getting enough serotonin we tend to seek it out elsewhere, including reaching for more carbohydrates and comfort food choices as a way to boost our mood [7].

Reduced exercise

Not only do we tend to reach for our favourite food choices in winter months, but we also tend to reduce our physical activity levels.

A review of 26 studies with 9,300 participants from 18 different countries found that, in general, physical activity levels are at their lowest during the winter season and at their highest during the summer months [8].

Vitamin D deficiency

Vitamin D also plays a role in winter weight gain, where we tend to stay indoors more during the winter season, meaning we're not getting enough vitamin D from sunlight. A study on women aged 65 and over found that those with lower vitamin D levels gained more weight [9].

Another review of 23 studies found a link between vitamin D deficiency and obesity, where a vitamin D deficiency was higher in 35% of participants who were obese and 24% higher in participants who were overweight [10].

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that tends to vary based on the seasons, where people tend to have symptoms of depression or mania at around the same time each year.

SAD tends to occur during autumn and winter months and goes away during spring and summer and weight gain is a common symptom of the disorder [11].

SAD occurs because of changes to the body's circadian rhythms (a.k.a. the body clock) where melatonin and serotonin hormones are produced in lower amounts which impacts both sleep and mood.

Seasonal weight gain varies as a result of SAD because of a few symptoms that can impact weight gain including [11]:

  • Decreased energy levels
  • Increased sleep
  • Difficulties waking up in the morning
  • Increased lethargy
  • Overeating and increased appetite and cravings for carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • A loss of interest in normal activities

Why is it easier to lose weight in summer?

In order to lose weight, you need to consume fewer calories, eat healthy foods, and increase your physical activity. During the summer and warmer months, this tends to be a lot easier for a lot of people and, there are a couple of reasons why this is the case.

Warmer weather encourages you to stay active

We all know it's easier to be more active during the summer months. We're walking a lot more, swimming more and getting enough sunlight and vitamin D. This all has an influence on weight loss where research shows that physical activity levels are far greater in summer than in winter at 76.7% [12].

Plus, we're more motivated than ever in summer months to get outdoors and take care of ourselves, eat balanced meals and make healthy choices because we're showing more skin.

Less likely to be emotionally eating

We already spoke about how serotonin and vitamin D levels decrease during the winter months, meaning they increase during summer, especially when we're exposed to longer days and more sunlight. That means we're far less likely to reach for unhealthy and processed canned foods with high calories that satisfy our negative emotional states.

Research from the University of Pittsburgh shows that among people with seasonal affective disorder, 27% reported binge eating during the most depressive months of the year. Of those, 94% say they isolate themselves more during winter. 90% of participants also say they crave carbs far more than normal during the winter season and when it's cold outside [13].

The heat suppresses our appetite

Another reason why it's easier to lose weight in summer is down to the heat suppressing our appetite. The body is working overtime to keep you from overheating during the hotter months, so your appetite decreases and you're able to lose weight faster [14].

Ways to slow down weight gain in winter

If you've gained weight this winter or want to avoid gaining weight this season, we're rounding up some of the ways you can create more balance in your daily routine that won't lead to weight gain. Instead, you can listen to your body, keep active, and follow a balanced diet through the colder months.

Stay active

We know it's easier said than done, especially when the weather is chilly outside, but staying active during the winter season is super important to avoid winter weight gain. Increasing your physical activity levels during the colder weather doesn't mean you have to head outside and brave the cold.

There are plenty of indoor exercise activities you include in your daily routine right in the comfort of your own home like at-home Pilates, yoga, and using apps and YouTube videos with guided exercise routines.

Eat balanced meals

It's tempting to eat comfort food with high calories during winter. But, opting for healthy foods can help prevent winter weight gain and aid in keeping weight off too.

Eating balanced meals, focusing on whole grains, and controlling your portion sizes by eating foods like fruit and vegetables, protein, seeds, whole grains, and more will help you feel fuller for longer and avoid winter weight gain.

Holistic weight loss programmes

When it comes to weight loss and winter weight gain, there is no quick-fix solution.

That's why Juniper’s Weight Reset Programme takes a holistic approach to weight loss, helping you achieve long-term and sustainable weight loss results.

Designed by medical experts, health coaches and dietitians, our Weight Reset Programme uses breakthrough weight loss medication. We prescribe Wegovy, a GLP-1 medication containing semaglutide, which is clinically proven to reduce your appetite, make you feel fuller for longer, and reduce cravings by targeting the reward centre in the brain. 

Plus, we know how important it is to make lifestyle and habit changes to increase your exercise levels and promote eating a balanced diet by arming you with health tracking, health coaching, and weekly check-ins with your clinician. We track your biometric, mental and physical health, continuously adjusting your programme to suit your individual needs and helping you get to a healthy weight range.

Our health coaches guide you through creating healthy habits that become integral in your lifestyle and daily routine with ongoing support from a registered dietitian, meal plans, health education, and progress tracking to help you be in control of your diet for good.

And, we know it's harder to stay active during the colder months which is why we provide you with a supportive community of women with our walking groups to ensure you're getting your sunlight, fresh air, and your steps in.

Ultimately, winter can make you gain weight as a result of the cold weather, the tendency to overindulge in your favourite comfort food and reduced exercise levels. But there are still plenty of ways you can keep active and follow a healthy diet without braving the cold outside.