December 17, 2014

7 Strategies to Zap the Winter Blues (& Burn Fat).


“The temperature had dipped into the single digits, I was feeling glum, and one bite turned into the whole package,” a Chicago reader confessed last month.

Early-winter hibernation took a dangerous turn once she realized a bag of double-fudge chocolate chip cookies lurked in her pantry.

Snow, sleet, cold and whatever other miseries winter brings create a brilliant excuse to blow off the gym while gorging on comfort food and watching Girls marathons. During those times, losing sight that spring lingers around the corner makes diving into a high-sugar impact food all too inviting.

Allow me to become the voice of reason.

We can hide behind oversized sweaters, elastic-waist pants and “relax fit” anything in January, but eventually we’ll have to don a bathing suit, bare arms in a sleeveless dress, or—yeah, I’ll say it—someone will see us naked.

These seven strategies can help bypass winter weight gain, boost optimism in even the gloomiest weather and keep our eyes on the big goals as spring hides behind the corner.

Sleep longer. Turn off TV, minimize Facebook time and use dark winter hours to sleep deeper. One study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, compared two groups of overweight, healthy participants who slept either eight and a half or five and a half hours each night for two weeks—those three hours made a huge difference.

The eight and a half-hour group burned 400 more calories every night, lost more fat, preserved more muscle and woke up less hungry than the 5.5-hour group.

Warm up with soup. Make soup a cold-weather staple and bypass the winter weight gain. A study in the journal, Obesity Research, showed people who ate two servings of lower-calorie soup lost 50 percent more weight than people who ate the same amount of calories in higher-calorie snack foods.

Soup makes combining hunger-busting protein, veggies, and high-fiber starches like lentils and beans in a chicken or vegetable broth easy. Hot, liquid-based foods like soup also force you to slow down, so you eat less and get full faster.

Make green tea your coffee shop go-to. Skip the sugar-loaded latte for a calming cup of naturally sweet hot green tea, which curbs your appetite so you’re less tempted to order that high-sugar impact cinnamon chip scone. Sipping green tea throughout the day also generates body heat so you stay warm. One study in Physiology & Behavior concluded green tea also increases calorie burning.

Work it out. Frigid temperatures and inclement weather make blowing off exercise way too easy, yet a study published in the journal, Psychological Medicine, concluded physical exercise combined with exposure to bright light could improve mood and quality of life in wintertime.

Take up a winter sport, try a new class, sample some fitness DVDs or pair up with someone who keeps you motivated. Find something that works for you and prioritize exercise.

De-stress. December brings overcrowded shopping malls, familial tension and year-end work deadlines. Feeling the pressure? Stress raises cortisol—the stress hormone that stores fat and breaks down muscle when it stays elevated past its prime. One meta-analysis with over 300 studies over three decades published in Psychological Bulletin found chronic stress could also dampen immunity, making you susceptible to whatever bug floats around the office.

Develop some anti-stress tactics. That might mean deep breathing, meditating, yoga, a hot bath or walking your terrier around the snow-laden block.

Digest well. Be mindful during your meals: chew thoroughly, put down the fork between bites and remember this isn’t a race to see who finishes first. If you struggle with gas, bloating or other post-meal misery, consider a professional-quality digestive enzyme. While we should drink sufficient water, watch intake during meals; too much liquid can dilute stomach enzymes that break down protein.

Stick with a schedule. Hunger lands you in places you’d rather not be—namely, a late-night butter pecan raid. A study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a high-protein breakfast reduces hunger and optimizes satiating hormones better than high-carbohydrate foods.

Start every morning with a protein shake within an hour of waking. Follow up by eating lean protein, healthy fats, leafy and cruciferous veggies and slow-release high-fiber starches every four to six hours. Midnight munchies? One study at the University of Washington found water helped curb cravings for everyone who tried it.

In most locales, winter presents unique challenges that can take a hit on our waistlines and our peace of mind. What strategy would you add to navigate cold weather—healthy, lean, and happy? Share yours below.




Auvichayapat P, et al. Effectiveness of green tea on weight reduction in obese Thais: A randomized, controlled trial. Physiol Behav. 2008 Feb 27;93(3):486-91.

Blom WA, et al. Effect of a high-protein breakfast on the postprandial ghrelin response. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Feb;83(2):211-20.

Nedeltcheva AV, et al. Insufficient Sleep Undermines Dietary Efforts to Reduce Adiposity. Annals of Internal Medicine October 5, 2010. Vol. 153, no. 7. 435-441.

Partonen T, et al. Randomized trial of physical exercise alone or combined with bright light on mood and health-related quality of life. Psychol Med. 1998 Nov;28(6):1359-64.

Rolls BJ, et al. Provision of foods differing in energy density affects long-term weight loss. Obes Res. 2005 Jun;13(6):1052-60.

Segerstrom SC1, Miller GE. Psychological stress and the human immune system: a meta-analytic study of 30 years of inquiry. Psychol Bull. 2004 Jul;130(4):601-30.

University of Washington Study. 2002. Reported in Integrated and Alternative

Medicine Clinical Highlights 4, no. 1: 16.  (Page 342).

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Author: JJ Virgin

Volunteer Editor: Melissa Horton/ Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons



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