Health And Wellness

8 Reasons Weight Fluctuation Is So Common In Fall & Winter — And How To Manage It

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We're entering the fall and winter season, and weight fluctuation during these colder months may be something you're worried about.

Have you ever noticed that you tend to put on a few pounds during the fall and winter? This is not random — and you’re not alone!

It’s quite common to have your weight fluctuate during fall and winter. These problems can range from indulging in richer foods to holiday stress eating, and it may be hard to pinpoint what causes weight gain.

This is not to say that weight gain doesn’t happen during any other time of the year. However, there are legitimate and common reasons why weight tends to fluctuate from October through March.

So, what can you do about it?

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Here are 8 common reasons you struggle with weight fluctuation during the fall and winter months.

1. Biology and evolutionary factors.

There are biological and evolutionary reasons for winter weight gain. Just as bears prepare for winter by eating a lot and then hibernating, humans will eat extra food as a preparation strategy for colder months ahead.

We have an instinctual tendency to avoid the cold and stay cozy indoors. Eating actually keeps you warm. This is not necessarily a conscious decision, but more of natural behavior.

It’s also instinctive to stock up for winter and have more food available. And if food is more available, it is easier to overeat. Especially now, during COVID-19, the tendency to stock up will be even greater than normal.

2. Hormones.

The Diet Doctor Moodi Dennaoui says that melatonin, the sleep hormone, increases in the winter causing you to sleep more. Again, like those hibernating bears, more sleep means less activity and a more sedentary life, which can increase weight gain.

Moodi goes onto say that it is typical for an extra 200 calories per day to be consumed in colder months.

Obviously, during the fall and winter, there is less sunlight. This triggers the pineal gland to produce more melatonin.

More melatonin means an increased appetite. If you have more melatonin and feel sleepier, you may tend to reach for sugary snacks to get you through the day.

In addition to your melatonin increasing during colder months, the hormones ghrelin and cortisol also increase. Fall and winter may be stressful months with kids going back to school and holidays around the corner.

Especially now, during the pandemic, the stress is much higher than usual. Higher stress increases the hunger hormone ghrelin which triggers cravings.

Higher stress also leads to higher cortisol hormone production, which leads to the body storing fat instead of burning it up.

3. Slow metabolism from heavier foods.

During the fall and winter months, the cold can lead to craving heavier and more comforting foods. These dense foods take more energy to break down, digest, and metabolize.

Metabolizing food takes energy and generates heat. This means that if you’re cold, you will have more cravings to literally keep yourself warm. And due to the colder temperature, you’re more likely to decrease your exercise or activity level.

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4. Fewer fresh foods.

The colder months produce less fresh fruit and vegetables, causing you to eat fewer fresh foods. Once again, more dense options will satisfy your food cravings.

You might also have a fridge filled with leftovers, which makes it harder to determine what you need.

5. Rich holiday food is everywhere.

Be honest with yourself. How often during holiday feasts did you starve all day, so that you could eat freely at mealtime? This is probably one of the worst things you can do, and will most certainly increase weight gain.

Additionally, holiday sweets and available treats — everything from Halloween candy to Thanksgiving pies and pumpkin spice lattes — are swirling around you constantly. It’s available and will most likely be consumed much more now than at any other time of year.

The higher calories, less activity, and need to be warm and cozy can be the perfect storm for holiday weight gain. This is why all the diet ads really come on strong during this time of year. The diet industry loves to capitalize on your fall and winter weight fluctuations.

6. You're staying inside.

Your lack of desire to go outside and exercise sets you up for increased weight during the fall and winter months.

Whether that means going out for a walk or heading to the gym, it still means you have to venture outside and face the cold. It’s much harder to be motivated and energized under these chilly circumstances.

7. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Less light during the winter months can increase symptoms of depression.

This leads to less activity as well as more emotional eating. If you expect you may be experiencing this during the darker months, please talk to your doctor.

8. You're eating for conveneince.

As stated earlier, the fall and winter months can be filled with more stress than other seasons. Kids being back in school and sports while trying to manage pandemic life can lead to grabbing fast-food alternatives, instead of cooking and eating at home.

Fast food tends to be higher in saturated fat and doesn’t end up satisfying you long term. For this reason, as well as most fast food being fried, weight gain will ensue.

So now that you can see all the common reasons for weight fluctuation in fall and winter, what can you do about it?

Here are 7 ways to manage winter weight fluctuation.

1. Manage that stress.

Easier said than done, right? Develop some great stress-management tools that include and focus on your self-care.

2. Avoid diets.

Deprivation only leads to weight gain down the road. It’s time to find a new way to manage your weight without removing food groups or starving yourself.

3. Practice intuitive eating.

Intuitive eating can help you have the same approach toward food every day, no matter what season it is.

4. Find alternative ways to stay active.

Get the proper gear to work out at home, or just keep moving.

5. Eat fresh fruits and veggies.

If you cannot find your fresh fruit preferences, it’s OK to use frozen. In fact, frozen fruit can often be even better for you, as it's typically frozen at peak freshness.

6. Don’t skip meals.

This year, try not starving yourself before a holiday feast. You’ll have much better success at not overeating, and may not even need to unbutton your pants after dinner!

7. Use light therapy. 

If you suspect you have SAD, there are “happy light therapy lamps” on the market that can do wonders.

As you can see, weight fluctuation is common in fall and winter. You're not immune from the effects of colder, darker months.

You can practice any or all of the above recommendations and not let this season get you down as in previous years. The knowledge you now have will increase your awareness.

These tools will create more success and enjoyment this as well as every fall and winter season!

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Lesley Goth, PsyD. is a psychologist and sustainable weight-loss coach. She currently has an online program geared to help women learn mindfulness, love themselves, and enjoy sustainable weight loss. For more information, please contact her at her website.