We’ve all been there. The waistband on your favourite jeans feels like it’s sawing you in half, and you could swear that they fit fine just last week. Well, you’re not alone — winter weight gain is a real thing, with studies showing that people, on average, pick up between 2,3kg and 3kg in winter.
That old ‘hibernation’ excuse you’ve been using? That’s only true for animals. Winter weight gain is mostly down to a decrease in exercise and an increase in eating (guilty). The diet saboteurs can be hard to avoid: the colleague who brings treats into the office when she knows you’re trying to avoid carbs, the best friend who encourages you to have ‘just one more drink’, or the chocolate calling you from the cupboard on a chilly evening.
This winter, make your health a priority with our no-nonsense weight-loss weapons…
10 ways to beat the winter weight gain
1. Be honest
Don’t presume people know how important your eating plan is to you — your friend is less likely to pop over with a packet of biscuits if you’ve sat down and asked her to support you in your weight-loss efforts. Sometimes friends are used to having you as their partner-in-indulgence-crime, and your resolve to lose weight can actually make them feel uncomfortable about their own relationship with food.
2. Plan ahead
Be the first to suggest a social get together. This way you can be the one who chooses the venue (try opt for places that offer fun activities, like bowling, and that don’t revolve solely around eating or drinking). If you know that you’re going to a restaurant, check out the menu online in advance, and decide what you’re having so you’re not influenced by others. ‘Studies show that the amount you eat depends on who you eat with,’ says behavioural nutrition expert Professor Jeff Brunstrom. ‘We also tend to eat more food when there are more people present.’
Read more: Eating out? What would a dietitian choose?
3. Drink up
We often mistake thirst for hunger, so make sure you stay adequately hydrated – we tend to forget to drink enough water in the cooler months, so be sure to add this to the top of your ‘anti-winter-weight-gain plan’!
4. Keep count
Sometimes you don’t even notice the extra kilojoules you’re consuming — that piece of cheese you ate while standing in front of the fridge, the roast potato you had while cooking dinner, or the endless top-ups the waiter poured while you were chatting to your friend. Keeping a food journal and writing down everything (yes, the same goes for anything you drink) will help you keep a tally of what you’ve had. Sounds like too much hard work? Download an app like MyNetDiary, which has a food database of over 600 000 items.
5. Know your ‘no’
If you know that the biscuit tray in the meeting room is your downfall, try this tactic. ‘Rehearse beforehand what to say if someone offers you something to eat you don’t want,’ says professor of health psychology Jane Ogden. ‘No’ is surprisingly hard to say, and it’s easier to be firm if you’ve practised. ‘Don’t give explanations or let others make you feel bad for being disciplined. It’s likely they’re finding it hard to stick to their goals and are trying to make themselves feel better,’ says nutritional therapist Daniel O’Shaughnessy.
6. Buddy up
If you’re going to a function where trays of canapés will tempt you at every turn, try recruit a health buddy in advance. ‘Keep each other on track – there’s strength in numbers,’ suggests nutritionist Angelique Panagos.
7. Skip the extras
There’s a tendency to eat more when we’re out than we would at home. Skip the bread basket during starters, or order a filter coffee while others dig into dessert – it will be lower in kilojoules and prevent you ordering another glass of wine.
Read more: 5 ways to eat clean and stay clean
8. Bring a dish
If you’re going to a friend’s house for a dinner party, take your own food. Turn up with a delicious-as-it-is-nutritious sharing treat, like sweet-potato wedges or veg crudités with a light hummus dip. ‘You will fool even the most indulgent of taste buds,’ says Angelique Panagos.
9. Slow down
Chewing your food slowly will help your brain register that you’ve eaten, making seconds less likely, and helping you avoid that winter weight gain. John Prescott, a professor of psychology and sensory science, also suggests that drinking less alcohol will make you more likely to stick to your goals. If you find it hard to say no to a drink, say you’re driving, or you’re on antibiotics.
10. Get creative
You know the saying ‘my eyes were bigger than my stomach’? Trick your eyes into thinking you’re eating more than you are by using a smaller plate. ‘Also, choose protein-rich food as you’ll feel fuller,’ adds Daniel O’Shaughnessy.
Read more: How to eat your way to a flatter tummy