Winter is not a time when most people think about trying to lose weight. If anything, they usually put on a few extra kilos during the winter months. According to Australian nutrition expert and creator of the Snack Attack Weight Loss Program, Robert Jarmyn, the winter months are, however, possibly the best time to try to shed a few excess kilos.
Mr Jarmyn explains that “despite misconstrued rationales that our body goes into a fat storage mode during the winter months because of our ancestral hunter gatherer heritage, the real reasons we put on weight during winter are more correlated to increased carbohydrate consumption and lower activity levels”.
Studies into the causes of winter weight gain have found that the reason why we eat more carbohydrates during the winter months is closely linked to a psychophysiological factor. As the days become shorter our body produces less serotonin. Serotonin plays an important role in influencing our moods. With less serotonin floating around our body we tend to seek foods containing sugar because sugar has a drug-like effect on the pleasure centre of our brain that makes us feel happy.
The problem is that sugar is highly addictive. The more we eat the more dramatic our mood swings. This in turn leads to eating even more to achieve the same emotional high. With all that excess sugar floating around our body combined with the effects of less activity during the cold damp winter months, our body is programed to store away the excess sugar as fat through a process known as glycogenesis.
Mr Jarmyn says “starting a weight loss program in winter makes a lot of sense. Firstly because you can avoid packing on the extra kilos during the winter months and secondly because you will have already put in the hard yards before summer arrives so will have much less work to do to shed the final bit of weight to be comfortable hitting the beach.”
With that in mind he has put together a list of tips to help beat the winter blues and get in shape for summer:
1. Eat fresh fruit and vegetables in preference to starchy carbohydrates. Whilst both of these still contain some sugar and carbohydrates because they are also excellent sources of fibre and phytonutrients you will feel fuller and more satisfied. Try eating vegetables like carrots, broccoli, pumpkin, sweet potato and cauliflower in the form of soup. The increased water content will help you feel full and assist in the break down of food.
2. Increase your protein intake. Protein takes longer to break down into energy than simple carbohydrates such as pasta or rice and will therefore keep you going for longer and make your metabolism work faster. If you combine meat and vegetables into hearty stews (without potatoes) it will not only help keep you warm during the cold winter months but will also give you the energy to keep you going for hours.
3. Ignore low-fat labels. If you are eating a lot of dairy food don’t be fooled by ‘low fat’ claims. Most low fat foods contain more sugar than the conventional varieties and will usually cost you more. No only that, recent studies conducted in Scandinavia reported that bioactive substances in milk fat may alter our metabolism in a way that helps us utilise the fat and burn it for energy, rather than storing it in our bodies.
4. Walk for 30 minutes per day. The American Council on Exercise found that during low-intensity exercise (such as walking) the body gets roughly 60 percent of its fuel from fat. Compare that to high-intensity workouts where fat only provides around 35 percent of the calories burned and it doesn’t take a genius to work out that slogging it out in the gym is not going to make you lose weight. Another positive about walking is that exercise also produces endorphins. Endorphins are great mood boosters and can help make up for the lack of serotonin being produced from shorter daylight hours. Whilst it is not always desirable to do in the depths of winter, if you really want to lose weight, walking for 30 minutes per day will make a significant difference to your waistline.
5. Stock up on B-group vitamins and amino acids. The metabolism of energy from fat requires a ready supply of biotin, thiamin and l-carnitine. Whilst these nutrients can be found in a wide variety of foods they are not stored within your body. In order to release the energy from your natural fat stores and kick start your metabolism, make sure your keep your levels of these nutrients topped up regularly.
6. Drink green tea and green coffee. Antioxidants fight free radicals that wear you down and can also boost your weight loss effort. A recent study conducted by researchers from Pennsylvania State University found that the anti-oxidants found in green tea (known as catchetins), inhibit an enzyme called pancreatic lipase (PL), which is secreted into the intestine to aid the digestion of dietary fat. In addition to reducing fat intake, green tea has also been shown to increase thermogenesis (fat metabolism). Similarly, green coffee bean extract has been shown in several clinical studies to reduce the uptake of carbohydrates and balance blood sugar levels. Celebrities like J-lo, Katy Perry and Demi Moore have been reported as using green coffee to get in shape for red carpet events.
7. Get some sun. Whenever the opportunity presents make sure you get out into the sun. Not only does serotonin act as a mood-boosting brain chemical it is also partly responsible for feelings of fullness. Even a heavy dose of artificial light, especially in the morning, may help suppress food cravings and the urge to overeat.