The winter holidays always seem to come and go in a flurry of planning, parties and over-indulgence. But there is something that tends to stick around, long after the frenzy is over: The Holiday Half Dozen. Winter weight gain.
Whatever you call it, the extra fat that creeps up between Halloween and the New Year seems inevitable with the cold weather approaching. We pack on calories with comfort foods and holiday treats, work out less as the days get shorter, and stress over all the holiday madness – the perfect storm for winter weight gain.
The good news is, by creating a dynamic plan and sticking to it, you can keep these seasonal pounds off and enjoy the holiday festivities even more. The goals are to increase metabolic efficiency and support digestion with the right foods, lifestyle habits and supplements. Instead of feeling tired and bloated this winter, you can give yourself the gifts of greater energy and optimal metabolism, better digestion, stronger immunity, with support for your overall health.
Tips for Handling Holiday Weight Gain
Eat Foods for Healthy Metabolism
The best way to protect your gut against these challenges to your metabolism is by strengthening your defenses with a solid foundation of nutrient-dense super foods. This way, you can fuel your body with what it needs for optimal health, energy and weight, and still be able to enjoy holiday treats without wreaking havoc on your metabolism. The key is in moderation, of course.
For optimal metabolism and healthy weight, focus on unprocessed foods that are low on what’s called “the glycemic index” (low in sugar), and high in fiber and nutrients. Emphasize greens such as kale, chard and collards; cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts; and other fiber- rich foods such as raspberries, artichokes, black beans, lentils and whole grains. An extra fiber supplement such as ground chia seeds can help optimize metabolism and support healthy digestion. Adding a bit of healthy oils such as olive, avocado or coconut to your grains, greens and salads contributes to feelings of satiety, helping to curb cravings. This can also be accomplished by eating more healthy oil-containing foods such as avocado, nuts and seeds.
Fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, miso and others are rich in probiotic bacteria that help balance blood sugar and control weight gain. Probiotics also reduce stress and boost mood, an extra plus during the winter.1
Hydration is also critical to control cravings and support a healthy weight, and cold weather can actually be more dehydrating than heat. Be sure to drink at least 64 ounces of filtered water each day (some of this can be from herbal teas).
Practice Healthy Stress Relief for Weight Management
Chronic stress and exhaustion are some of the biggest culprits in weight gain. They both cause cortisol and other stress hormones to flood the body, fueling inflammation and a triggering cascade of reactions that spell bad news for your metabolism. Stress and lack of sleep increase the risks of obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and numerous other chronic illnesses.
Studies show that healthy mind-body relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga and Tai Chi help control stress and reduce cortisol, control inflammation and support healthy weight and overall health.2
Likewise, adequate sleep – 8-9 hours in general, can reduce numerous risks related to metabolism and chronic illnesses.
Stress and exhaustion can also worsen during the winter due to lack of sunshine. Vitamin D is a critical nutrient involved in many areas of health, and it’s produced primarily when we’re exposed to the sun. It’s no wonder that so many people experience vitamin D deficiency this time of year, contributing to “Seasonal Affective Disorder” or SAD, with symptoms of depression. By supplementing with extra vitamin D3, we can support metabolic efficiency and promote a healthy mood, while also boosting immunity, energy and overall health. Since the holidays can be a little crazy, it’s important to take time for yourself and nourish your nervous system with healthy relaxation and sleep habits.3
Winterize Your Workout
We all know the importance of exercise, but when the weather is unwelcoming, it can be hard to keep a regular routine. However, winter may be the time of year we need movement the most, to support immunity, cardiovascular health, metabolism and mood. Again, yoga and Tai Chi are excellent workouts that can be done indoors, and offer numerous important benefits for physical, mental and emotional health. Pilates and other mat-workouts are also great ways to maintain and build muscle, an important key to keeping your metabolism in top form during the winter.
Try Supplements to Support Healthy Metabolism and Weight Management
A number of targeted supplements can support long term metabolic health and counterbalance the dietary excesses and indulgences characteristic of the season. In my clinic, I recommend a formula called ecoMetabolic, with American ginseng, holy basil, gymnema leaf, cinnamon, chromium polynicotate, alpha lipoic acid, medicinal mushrooms and other ingredients. This formula can help balance blood glucose, reduce sugar cravings, improve sugar and fat metabolism and help maintain a healthy weight.
Don’t forget digestion. By supplementing with botanicals and nutrients that help improve nutrient absorption and improve digestive efficiency, we can promote greater energy, improve metabolism, and reduce bloating and indigestion. I recommend digestive-supporting ingredients such as cinnamon, cardamom, pomegranate and ginger; enzymes to help break down carbohydrates and fats, and minerals such as zinc and chromium to optimize overall digestive function. Probiotics offer excellent digestive and metabolic support as well.
Finding Seasonal Balance in Your Diet
Winter is a magical time of year, and the holidays can bring to life our celebrations of joy, gratitude and love. It’s also a time of year to cherish your own health, to find peace and quiet in the stillness of the season, and contemplate your personal goals for the upcoming year. With a healthy foundation of nourishing habits and practices, we can cultivate energy and vitality for greater enjoyment of all this season has to offer, including an extra piece of pecan pie. We also get a running start on our health goals for the New Year. Now that’s something to celebrate!
- Abenavoli L, Scarpellini E, Colica C, et al. Gut Microbiota and Obesity: A Role for Probiotics. Nutrients. 2019 Nov 7;11(11):2690.
- Sojcher R, Gould Fogerite S, Perlman A. Evidence and potential mechanisms for mindfulness practices and energy psychology for obesity and binge-eating disorder. Explore (NY). 2012 Sep-Oct;8(5):271-6.
- Geng C, Shaikh AS, Han W, Chen D, Guo Y, Jiang P. Vitamin D and depression: mechanisms, determination and application. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2019;28(4):689-694. doi: 10.6133/apjcn.201912_28(4).0003. PMID: 31826364.