4 Reasons Why Winter Weight Loss Is Difficult

A health coach serves up tips for dealing with frigid temps, comfort food cravings, and more.

There's no question it's easier to make healthy choices in spring and summer. Fruits and vegetables are abundantly in season. Plus, the sun is shining, and there are more daylight hours. So, you feel naturally motivated to head outdoors and get active.

In contrast, eating clean and slimming down during the cold, harsh winter months can seem much more challenging. But some evidence suggests that cold temperatures result in improved metabolism and the burning of more calories.

Here's what you should know about some of the most common weight-loss challenges when the temperature drops and how to overcome them to lose weight successfully.

Temptation Is Everywhere

Hot chocolate, creamy soups, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, holiday desserts. 'Tis the season for comfort foods, which can seem unfair when you're doing your best to focus on healthy eating. 

Those circumstances can put you in a tough spot, Sheila Viers, health and lifestyle coach, told Health. And if you're not careful, you may think that all indulgences are "bad." And once you start labeling your food choices as "good" and "bad," every decision becomes a loaded one.

When you stray from your eating plan, you may experience guilt or shame, emotions that can trigger the body's stress response. And stress only sets you up for more trouble: When you're not feeling your best, it's even harder to stay on track with your goals, said Viers.

Weight Loss Tip: Plan Ahead

Instead of sweating over all the dietary "shoulds," try making food choices that are right for you most of the time. 

"Maybe you plan ahead," suggested Viers, so you're deciding when you want to indulge—like at a Friday night potluck, for example.

Or maybe you plan for one small indulgence per day (say, a few squares of high-quality dark chocolate) to satisfy your sweet tooth. 

"The important thing is that the decision feels good to you," added Viers.

A study published in 2017 in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity showed that people who planned meals had better diet outcomes than others, including:

  • More food variety
  • Improved diet quality
  • Lower weight

Planning meals—as well as when to have something indulgent—might be a tool that helps you feel satisfied and stick with healthy eating most of the time.

You’re Fighting the Urge To Hibernate

Between the cold weather and shorter, darker days, winter could be enough to ruin your motivation to exercise. Going for a run or hitting the gym can be challenging for some people when it's so cozy at home.

But you don't have to leave your living room for a great workout. There are many great workout videos online. 

"You can put a couple together," suggested Viers. "Or split them up, with 10 minutes before work and 10 minutes in the evening."

Weight Loss Tip: Indoor Activity

"The benefit of working out is that it gets oxygen to the cells," explained Viers. "This keeps your body working optimally and keeps you energized."

Keeping up a fitness routine will help with more than weight loss. Physical activity not only helps with long-term weight loss but prevents weight regain. Exercise also keeps your heart healthy, manages and prevents diabetes, and maintains brain health.

Need some inspiration? Try some of the following workouts, depending on what you enjoy:

And if you don't have time to search for online workouts, check out some online fitness classes reviewed by Health. Or try a 20-minute HIIT workout that you can do anywhere.

You’re Loading Up on Salt

If you're eating fewer fresh foods in the winter months, you're probably eating more packaged and processed foods, which can be high in sodium. Canned veggies, soups, pasta, bread, chips, and crackers can all cause you to retain water. Water weight can make you feel bloated and sluggish even if you're keeping your calorie intake in check.

Weight Loss Tip: Prevent Water Weight

Choosing low-sodium options and adding potassium-rich foods to your diet may help reduce water retention. Potassium helps process sodium out of your body.

Foods that are high in potassium include:

  • Lentils
  • Kidney beans
  • Bananas
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes
  • Sweet potatoes

Also, hydrate as much as you can. Drinking plenty of fluids may seem like it will make water retention worse, but it's the opposite. 

"It really is the best way to get rid of that water weight," explained Viers.

Raw Veggies Seem So Unappealing

Let's face it: When you're feeling cold, your belly isn't exactly rumbling for kale. You're probably more inclined to opt for a warm, savory lunch over a salad, right? 

Soups and stews are a great way to get vegetables, too. You just have to choose wisely, said Viers.

Weight Loss Tip: Eat More Cooked Fruits and Veggies

"A soup with a cream base is more likely to contain more calories, for example, so you can opt for broth-based soups," said Viers. Make a big batch of homemade soup to enjoy all week, or choose brands with low-sodium options.

And if you're turned off by salad, try eating your veggies warm as a side dish, in soup, or even over dark leafy greens for a nutrient-packed and filling meal. Try some of the following veggies:

  • Broccoli
  • Green beans
  • Leafy greens
  • Zucchini
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots

And if you don't have time to roast veggies, opt for frozen ones instead of canned veggies for a low-sodium choice. Throw frozen veggies into the microwave or steamer basket for a quick, hot side dish.

Don't forget about warm fruits, too. They can be a delicious, healthy winter treat. You can bake or roast apples, peaches, pears, plums, or even cherries. Eat with a little drizzle of honey, cinnamon, or whipped cream dollop.

A Quick Review

Although there are some challenges to losing weight in the winter, cold temperatures may help metabolism and calorie burning, as long as you have healthy habits. 

Planning meals (and some indulgences), exercising indoors, choosing low-sodium and high-potassium foods, and eating plenty of cooked vegetables can help you lose weight during the winter.

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