When the temperature drops, what’s the one thing humans are all too quick to put on? (Hint: It’s not more layers of clothing.) Nope, we’re talkin’ about poundage. Studies show most adults gain at least one pound during the fall and winter, and these pounds are likely to pile up over the yearsA prospective study of holiday weight gain. Yanovski, J.A., Yanovski, S.Z., Sovik, K.N., et al. Development Endocrinology Branch, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892-1862, USA. The New England Journal of Medicine, 2000 Mar 23;342(12):861-7.. But are there ways to avoid that dreaded weight gain?

Creatures of Comfort — Why It Matters

Of course, winter also brings colder temperatures, and when body temperature drops, it’s natural to crave foods that provide warmth (since the body transfers energy from food into heat)Brown adipose tissue: function and physiological significance. Cannon, B., Nedergaard, J., The Wenner-Gren Institute, The Arrhenius Laboratories F3, Stockholm University, Stockhold, Sweden. Physiological Reviews, 2004 Jan;84(1):277-359.. The only problem is, those warm n’ tasty comfort foods are often rich in carbohydrates and high in calories. And adults who gain weight during the holiday season aren’t terribly likely to lose itHoliday weight gain: fact or fiction? Roberts, S.B., Mayer, J. Energy Metabolism Lab, USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Tufts University, Boston, MA 02111, USA. Nutrition Reviews, 2000 Dec;58(12):378-9.. This means those extra pounds can accumulate over several years of Christmas partiesShivering in the cold: from mechanisms of fuel selection to survival. Haman, F., Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Journal of Applied Physiology, 2006 May;100(5):1702-8.— not quite the holiday bonus we were hoping for.With the winter months comes a barrage of holidays centered around food— and a whole lot of occasions to overeat. One study found that over the Thanksgiving holiday participants packed on an extra pound each (that’s 3,500 extra calories!)The effect of the Thanksgiving holiday on weight gain. Hull, H.R., Radley, D., Dinger, M.K., et al. Department of Health and Exercise Science, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK, USA. Nutrition Journal, 2006 Nov 21;5:29.. Even the pilgrims probably overate, with their harvest feast lasting three whole days (talk about a serious food coma).

On top of the temptation to stuff our bellies with mac n’ cheese, shorter days and less sunlight might also mean less exercise. One study found that participants were least physically active in the winter, and most active in the springSeasonal variation in food intake, physical activity, and body weight in predominantly overweight population. Ma, Y., Olendzki, B.C., Li, W., Division of Preventative and Behavioral Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worchester, MA. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2006 Apr;60(4):519-28..

Winter Weight — The Answer/Debate

Even with holiday parties and an abundance of casserole, pasta, and pumpkin pie around the corner, it’s possible to beat winter weight gain (a.k.a. the blizzard bulge) with a few helpful tips:

  • Hit the fruit basket. Eating a piece of fruit before heading to a holiday party can take the edge off hunger and help prevent overloading on carbs.
  • Scope out the buffet table. Check out the healthiest choices available before filling up a plate. Then, aim for filling half to three-fourths of the plate with veggies, and the rest with lean protein like skinless roasted turkey or seafood.
  • Keep a food journal. Tracking everything we eat can make us more aware of our food choices, especially during the holidays. Yep, even that nibble of cookie dough counts!
  • Beware of the holiday beverages. Festive drinks may be fun to sip, but drink in moderation— they can be full of empty calories and loads of sugar (just one cup of eggnog has 340 calories!). Not to mention, spiking the hot cocoa with alcohol can wreak havoc on the waistline and even the skin.
  • Get moving inside. If staying indoors is the only option, there are plenty of ways to stay active. Instead of watching a movie, try popping in an exercise DVD. Hosting a holiday party? Get in a good workout and prepare for guests at the same time— deep cleaning can burn up to 270 calories per hour.