Longer nights, shorter days, colder weather and decreased exercise can all contribute to winter weight gain. Add the temptation of rich comfort food and it’s easy to see why so many of us battle to keep to our health goals during winter.
According to Dr Riekie Smit, an aesthetic medicine practitioner from Pretoria with a special interest in weight management, women tend to gain an average of between two and four kilograms every winter and generally only lose half of what they gained in the upcoming summer. Unless it’s stopped, this pattern will result in gaining more weight every year. We feel sorry for ourselves when it is cold outside and opt for comfort food, and then regret it when summer arrives. However, Dr Smit recommends that we should all make an effort to eat healthier food and increase our intake of vegetables, especially green ones. “This will not only keep the weight off, but also keep your immunity levels high,” she says. Dr Rosetta Guidozzi, a general practitioner from Johannesburg, says that in order to boost immunity during winter it is important to follow a healthy diet, including lots of vegetables and citrus fruits.
Foods should be enhanced with herbs such as sage, rosemary, oreganum and coriander as they have powerful antioxidant effects and are flavour enhancers, which can help you to eat less. The same applies to spices such as curry and peri-peri, which flavour foods and induce a decrease in consumption. Clinical psychologist and cognitive behavioural therapist, Dr Colinda Linde from Randburg, Johannesburg, also agrees that eating for immunity is important. “Winter tends to be when we get sick, so make sure to include immune boosting foods like citrus, garlic, herbs, mushrooms and a dose of probiotics. Winter is also a great time for ‘slow food’—casseroles, soups and stews that are easy to put together, warm and hearty to counter the cold,” she says.
Although it can be more difficult to exercise in winter, Dr Smit says that if the cold is putting you off your walk or cycle, opt rather for indoor exercise programmes, either at the gym or at home. She says that there are now multiple apps to help you with this. Dr Guidozzi reiterates that continuing exercise and eating correctly in winter is a priority. This includes the preparation of healthy stews and soups using lots of herbs and spices. “The trick is to remain motivated during winter,” she says. Even if you change the type of exercise you do during the winter months, it is important to at least continue with activity. Dr Linde says that while she would definitely recommend including exercise in winter, it is also important to be realistic about it. She recommends possibly starting the day with stretches, which warm you up and can be done on a yoga mat in your bedroom at home. She says in this way you consciously include exercise in your daily routine, with the option to also add something outside of home such as the gym, a walk or a run.
Dr Guidozzi says that winter can also trigger the “winter blues” in some people, an onset of lowered moods. “To prevent this, it is necessary to exercise and also to spend time outdoors, and absorb the sunlight when one can,” she says, and reiterates the importance of maintaining good sleeping habits. She says that sleep deprivation will lower immunity and can lead to making less favourable food choices. While healthy eating and exercise is important, so too is taking time for yourself. Dr Linde, who is launching the second edition of her book entitled Get the balance right—Coping tips for working moms, which was first published in 2005, says that winter is associated with hibernation in nature, where animals and many plants slow down, and renew themselves by spring. “We have a short winter here, only three months really, so it could become an annual stocktake, going inward by meditating quietly or journaling for a few minutes daily”, she says.
The time saved by putting a stew in the slow cooker can be used to curl up on the couch with a magazine. Another tip to remember in winter is to care for your skin, which can become dry and irritated during the winter months, leading to loss of collagen and wrinkling. Dr Smit recommends using a milk cleanser and rich moisturiser to stay hydrated. Keeping up an adequate intake of water is also essential. “In winter you could opt for hot herbal teas or hot water with lemon or mint leaves,” she suggests. Some healthcare practitioners suggest taking a supplement with added vitamin C and zinc in winter, although this should not replace a healthy diet, especially a diet which includes fruit and vegetables with adequate vitamin C.
Adding probiotics to your daily routine can also help your immunity to resist viral infections. Remember also that hand hygiene is vital to avoid germs. Instead of associating winter with comfort eating, hibernation and a bowl of creamy pasta on the couch, be proactive. Spice up your winter menu with healthy vegetable soup, download an app to start getting more active in the comfort of your home and remember that while summer bodies can be made in winter, eating healthy foods, exercising and upping your immunity can help you to enjoy a healthier winter. Whether in winter or summer, some people trying to lose weight will struggle too much with hunger, especially at the start of their weight loss journey.
These people might benefit from a prescription medication which, together with appropriate lifestyle adjustments, can help kick-start a weight loss journey, or can help someone get back on track. If you are worried about your weight, speak to your doctor for advice about how to lose or manage your weight. Visit www.ilivelite.co.za for tips, support and further information about weight loss.