How to avoid winter weight gain

Cups of hot chocolate

Do you usually gain a few pounds over the winter? Senior Dietitian Victoria Taylor explains how to stay strong this year.

Winter is a time for big jumpers and cosy nights in. But whether it’s the richer meals, the fact that we might be moving less, or that we’re covering up with lots of layers, the result can be bad news for our waistlines.

Although we might focus on weight gain over the Christmas season, it’s important to be aware of the small changes to our lifestyles over the winter. A little more to eat coupled with a little less activity can add up to gradual weight gain that, come spring, can be a bigger problem to resolve.

And, if you don’t manage to shift it in the warmer months, gaining a couple of pounds every winter can add up over time and have a big impact on our health. So here’s how to stop it.

1. Keep moving

A woman in a red coat walking through the snow 

While the last thing you might want to do is go outside, don’t let this stop you from being active. As well as lowering your risk of heart and circulatory diseases, exercise can lift your mood, helping you to feel more positive about making changes to your diet. Getting out of the house can also be a useful distraction from snacking. 

If you don’t want to go out in the dark then plan this for when you have time during the day.

Set aside time for exercise in your week, as well as taking any opportunities to walk more or use the stairs. Make an appointment in your diary to visit the gym, go for a longer or faster walk, or play a team sport. But also be realistic – if you don’t want to go out in the dark then plan this for when you have time during the day.

If you plan to do your activity outside, it can also be useful to have a back-up plan if you can’t get out. Try to think of covered walking routes – around a shopping centre, for example – or ways that you can be more active at home.

2. Shed extra pounds sooner rather than later

Penguin socks and bathroom scales

If you’ve already put on some weight over the Christmas period, aim to get back on track sooner rather than later, but try to resist the urge to go for a quick fix and focus on slow and steady weight loss.

Aim to eat three balanced meals a day and limit, or avoid, snacks. If you do snack, make sure it’s because you’re hungry, and plan ahead so you don’t make impulse decisions.

Measure out cereals, pasta and rice so that you don’t overeat.

Avoiding alcohol and sugary drinks can also help you to lose weight, because they add calories to the diet. Alcohol, in particular, makes us feel less inhibited as well as increasing appetite, so it can make it harder to stick to healthy choices after a drink.

Your portion sizes are important, too. Measure out cereals, pasta and rice so that you don’t overeat. Pay attention to your food so that you’re conscious of what you’ve eaten and when – that way you’re likely to eat less later on. Try eating meals at the table rather than in front of the television. 

3. Plan ahead for warming winter dishes

A chilli dish

Make healthy eating plans that are realistic and weather-proof. Salads might be good in the summer, but in the winter we’re usually looking for a hot meal.

There are lots of warming dishes that are healthy or can easily be adapted. Make soups with a base of tinned tomatoes and onion, then pack them with lots of vegetables (fresh or frozen) and beans. Chilli can be a heart-healthy meal if you use lean mince and add some extra veg, or make a vegetarian version with combinations of beans, lentils and veg.

There are lots of warming dishes that are healthy or can easily be adapted.

If you’re craving a roast, roast chicken or turkey (without the skin) is the healthiest meat choice. A jacket potato will have more fibre and less fat than roast potatoes, and make sure you fill your plate with veg and choose a low-salt gravy.

Apples, plums or frozen berries can be easily stewed or baked. Serve them warm with low-fat plain yoghurt, or custard made with low-fat milk. Winter salads can also be an option – go for a warm one using lentils and roasted vegetables like butternut squash, onions and peppers, with herbs or spices for extra flavour. They’re easy to make in bulk, so you’ll have leftovers for another meal.

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