It’s often a case that as soon as the weather turns and there’s a cold snap, our healthy eating and exercise routines are sorely tested – and we may even abandon them altogether.

It seems that for many of us warmer days with long hours of sunlight acts as a “buddy system”. We enjoy getting out and about and moving our bodies isn’t too much of an effort.

As winter arrives, however, and the temperatures drop and the days become shorter, it’s almost as if we turn into someone else: we feel more lethargic, feel hungrier (and crave richer foods such as hearty stews, pies and roast dinners) and feel less committed about keeping our weight in check.  

We don’t want to arrive in spring sporting a few extra unwanted kilos, so the real possibility of weight gain over winter is a worry. Why do we feel less motivated to keep fit and what can we do about it?

Sam Partner, a Brisbane-based personal trainer with more than 20 years’ experience working with clients in their 50s (Partner in Fitness personal training), says it’s perfectly normal to experience these shifts in motivation and mood. However, she stresses that doesn’t mean the drop in motivation needs to control us.

“Studies by the universities of Massachusetts and Georgia in the US found that fewer daylight hours encourages us to seek food and eat it faster… a bit like animals going into hibernation,” says Partner.

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Go for high-protein dishes such as steamed or roast vegies to keep the calories down

“Many of us will consume more calories daily over winter; about 200 more, in fact,” she adds.

Unfortunately, this means we’ll have to push ourselves a bit harder to keep our weight stable, so it’s a good idea to start thinking about strategies to do that now, she says.

“Those extra 200 calories are the equivalent of about 20 minutes of sprint intervals on a stationary bike or 25 minutes of Vinyasa yoga [a dynamic form of yoga]. You can also burn those calories off dancing in your living room for about 40 minutes or wash and wax your car for the same period,” says Partner.

Partner says you have to find ways to be mentally stronger in winter and in particular not give up on exercising and eating healthily. Try to stay faithful to your routines.

“If that means getting up early to exercise, be tough and brave the cold mornings,” she says. “You’ll soon warm up once you get moving. Don’t let the doona win!”

If you’re used to exercising outdoors and that’s harder to do, find alternatives. “If you’re a swimmer, for example, look at trying squad training or laps in an indoor pool or more land-based activities such as circuit training classes,” she says. 

Another tip to stay motivated is to exercise regularly with friends or your partner. “Make appointments with friends to go for a walk or do some exercise,” Partner suggests. “You will be less likely to cancel as a commitment makes you more accountable.”

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Waking up to exercise in the cold is difficult – but worth it!

It’s also important to watch your diet. “Choose foods high in protein – these will satisfy you for longer. A great meal option is fresh salmon and vegies or skinless chicken and steamed broccoli as they’re high in protein and low in calories,” says Partner.

Also keep tabs on what time you’re eating in the evenings. “Eat dinner early and eat slowly,” says Partner. “Try not to eat anything after 8pm.”

Partner says it’s common for people to want to snack more during colder months: so remember that willpower is your best friend.

“Evenings in front of the television are often times when we snack mindlessly but instead of reaching for the chocolate biscuits, put the kettle on and have a cup of herbal tea such as peppermint or green tea. If my male clients groan at the thought of herbal tea, I suggest a small hot chocolate with low-fat or skim milk.

“If you’re still searching the cupboards at 9pm or later for a treat, go to bed instead. That may sound harsh but it’s okay to go to sleep feeling a little hungry.”

Finally, if you fancy a bit of a reality check, get out your favourite swimsuit and try it on half way through winter. If you like what you see, you’ll know you’re on the right track but if you don’t, you’ll still have time to turn things around before spring arrives.

Do you put on weight over winter? What’s your best motivational tip? 

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