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 2kg to 4kg every winter and generally only lose half of what they gained in the upcoming summer.
Unless the annual gain is curbed, this pattern will result in gaining more weight every year.
Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves when it is cold outside and opting for comfort food, and then regretting this when summer arrives, Smit recommends making a conscious effort to eat healthier food and increase your intake of vegetables.
“This will not only keep the weight off, but also keep your immunity levels high.”
Dr Rosetta Guidozzi, a general practitioner from Johannesburg, says it is important to follow a healthy diet including lots of vegetables and citrus fruits in order to boost immunity during winter.
Foods should be enhanced with herbs such as sage, rosemary, origanum, coriander because they have powerful antioxidant effects and are flavour enhancers, which can result in eating less. The same applies to spices, such as curry and peri-peri.
Clinical psychologist and cognitive behavioural therapist Dr Colinda Linde from Randburg 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, Smit says that if the cold is putting you off your walk or cycle, rather opt for indoor exercise programmes at home – there are multiple apps to help with this.
Linde recommends starting the day with stretches, which warm you up and can be done on a yoga mat in your bedroom. 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 a walk or a run.
The cold season 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,” said Guidozzi.
It is also important to maintain good sleeping habits as sleep deprivation will lower immunity and can lead to making bad food choices.
Another tip to remember in winter is to care for your skin, which can become dry and irritated and more prone to dehydration, This lead to loss of collagen and wrinkling.
Smit recommends using a milk cleanser and rich moisturiser to stay hydrated. Drinking enough water is also essential.
“In winter you could opt for hot herbal teas or hot water with lemon or mint leaves.”
So instead of only associating winter with comfort eating, hibernation and a bowl of creamy pasta on the couch, spice up your winter menu with healthy vegetable soup, get more active in the comfort of your home and remember that eating healthy foods, exercising and upping your immunity can help you enjoy a wholesome winter.