How Seasonal Changes Impact Weight Loss

August 15, 2019

blog_cyclesShedding a few pounds as the temperatures warm up and gaining them back when the cold returns is a cycle most people can relate to. After all, we want to look good poolside during the summer and may feel safe hiding under bulky winter sweaters. However, many people don’t realize that the seasonal patterns in weight loss and weight gain are more than behavioral. In fact, our biological tendencies, daylight patterns, and the ambient temperature of an area play a role in weight changes, which makes behavioral choices an even more critical factor in year-round weight management.

According to Dr. Lawrence Cheskin of Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center, people gain on average five to seven pounds during the colder months. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons for this and how you can leverage this knowledge to optimize your own weight and overall health.

Exposure to Sunlight

As temperatures rise and the days get longer, we are exposed to more sunlight. Fortunately, this means a hike in serotonin levels, or the hormones that improve mood, and vitamin D, which has been shown to be beneficial for weight loss. Studies have shown that people with happier moods have an easier time losing weight and the extra vitamin D can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Often referred to as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D also helps lower cortisol levels and increase energy levels.

Unfortunately, we tend to get out less when the temperatures fall as winter approaches. This decreased exposure to sunlight means less vitamin D which can lead to increased abdominal fat and overall weight gain.  This means you might need to supplement your vitamin D if you don’t want to face those freezing temperatures.


Temperatures Influence Your Activity Levels

Not many people like to exercise outside in below freezing temperatures, but once the temperatures rise, we are more likely to get out and get moving. The longer hours of sunlight also allow us to get a workout in before or after a day at the office, and the warm temperatures make a brisk walk or jog around the block all the more enjoyable.

Of course, once the cold rolls back around, nothing feels better than cozying up by the fireplace and enjoying some chocolate and holiday treats in the winter. Unfortunately, the decreased hours of sunlight and colder temperatures usually leads to spending long periods inside and going days without any exercise.   According to a Gallup poll, only 46% of Americans said they exercise three days a week during the winter compared to 55% in the summer. Whether it’s inside or outside, take some time during the day to burn off the excess calories.


Temperatures Impact How Much We Eat

According to a University of Massachusetts Medical School study, our average caloric intake decreases about 200 calories per day in the summer compared to the winter. In colder temperatures, we are inclined to eat more foods, especially carbohydrates, due to our body’s need to warm up. When we metabolize food, it produces internal heat and helps keep our bodies warm. In the summertime, we of course don’t need that extra warmth. Because we are inclined to eat less, it’s important to make the calories that we do consume count with healthy fruits and vegetables. Those juicy fruits provide a lot of light refreshment in the heat as well.

On the other hand, the winter tends to increase our hunger. The combination of decreased exposure to sunlight and a lack of exercise leaves our bodies desiring more sources for energy. Unfortunately, this means we crave sugar and carbs to meet our needs. Between Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year’s, it seems like there is an endless supply of holidays centered on eating during the winter. According to a Cornell University study, the average American’s weight increases throughout October and November, and peaks 10 days after Christmas. To counter this, you don’t have to completely cut out celebrating with friends and family, but moderating your intake of unhealthy, high-calorie foods will allow you to stay on track and still enjoy the holidays.


Sweat Impacts Hydration

This one may seem obvious, but the hotter temperatures cause us to sweat more. Sweating is our body’s natural way of keeping us cool, and even though sweating itself doesn’t equate to total weight loss, it will cause the loss of water weight. This will lead us to drinking more water and continuing to sweat, which is part of a healthy hydration cycle.

Because exercise levels are generally lower and there is an increased desire for warm drinks, studies have shown that people tend to drink less water during cold weather months. This practice not only causes weight gain and fatigue, but it can also lead to drinking more sugary drinks, which is of course bad for weight loss. The more water you have, the healthier it is. For example, a healthy body water percentage is 40-60% while an obese person typically has less than 40% body water. Focus on drinking more water and replacing unhealthy drinks to ensure you are not adding extra calories to your diet.


Of course, these seasonal changes don’t mean you’re guaranteed to lose or gain weight, but rather it means you can prepare and adjust accordingly to meet your weight goals.  So, how can you make sure you are losing weight year-round?

Most importantly, you should stick to the basics: watch your calorie levels and nutrition, make time for daily exercise, and continue to make informed lifestyle choices to improve your health. If your goal is weight loss, take advantage of the nice weather in the spring and summer to get moving outside. The sun provides much-needed vitamin D and consistent exercise sets you up with a foundation for overcoming the challenges of winter. Furthermore, the warm weather brings fresh fruits and vegetables that can provide you with the energy and nutrients you need.

Then, once the cold weather returns, be sure to stock your pantry with healthy treats to fight those holiday cravings. Being prepared and committed will ensure that you consistently lose weight regardless of temperature.

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