Turns out winter weight gain is a real thing

But we're not off the hook! Get the skinny on it, and tips to combat it.

But we're not off the hook! Get the skinny on it, and tips to combat it

(Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

It's very convenient to blame the holiday season for your weight gain — overeating at parties and family dinners is a perfectly viable culprit. But when February rolls around and you're still feeling full, could there be something more at play? Often the term "winter weight gain" is thrown out as a joking myth or quasi-excuse, but it's more real than we think. According to new research, natural evolution and lack of sunlight can heavily influence us to pack on the pounds when it gets colder.

The first study, from the University Of Exeter, examined the animalistic urge of eating as a means for survival. We have two natural forces at play; the desire to eat (and gain weight) for energy while avoiding starvation, versus gaining too much weight that would make us more susceptible to predators. Devising a computer model to determine the mathematical possibilities of these two forces, researchers uncovered that the desire to fight against starvation is far greater than the desire to prevent overeating. We fear starvation far more than we fear gaining too much weight, so the desire to keep eating is a stronger motivating factor. It seems that eating desire is so ingrained in us that it still drives us in our modern lives (where there is basically no chance of actual starvation). As such, this desire is heightened when food is traditionally more scarce, during the winter months, so we're more susceptible to our evolutionary urges during these times.

The second study, from the University Of Alberta, uncovered that our bodies' fat cells may have a positive reaction to sunlight. The findings, discovered by accident, suggest that fat cells which reside closest to the skin, when exposed to blue light (which the sun produces), actually begin to shrink, thus storing less fat. Researchers have inverted this finding to suggest that lack of sunlight, which we would experience during the winter months, can increase the cells' ability to store fat and make us more susceptible to weight gain. After this initial discovery, researchers intend to study exactly what amount of sunlight is needed to create this effect and if sunlight exposure in infancy could be a determining factor in our fat-making abilities as we age.

Add to convincing scientific reasons cold weather  lifestyle factors: spending more time indoors, no pressure to work on that beach bod, etc.,and  winter weight gain seems not only real, but hard to avoid.

Extra motivation to stay fit and eat healthy is definitely needed during this season so trainer and nutritionist, Kyle Byron, shared the following quick tips we can all use to fight that winter weight gain.

First, find your motivation. "You have to have a reason to care about your health and fitness", says Byron, "and it has to be more powerful than your need to cope with eating junk food and sitting on the couch". Deadline goals like signing up for a race in the spring or even seriously considering your long term health are all great motivators to stay active.

Second, create your own day-to-day accountability by incorporating others. Byron belongs to a group training club "and it motivates me to show up, train hard, and do the exercises I might not normally do".

Also, remove all junk food from the house. "If you are part of a family, it's best to have a meeting about this and suggest if others want junk food, they can eat it outside the house." Byron adds, "The chemical desire to eat will always beat willpower, when treats are in our environment."

Lastly, "Know how to eat." A diet lacking in nutrition or adequate calories can leave you craving more junk, looking for a quick fix, "Once I fix a few things (with) a person's nutrition, they crave less junk food."

So yes, excuse makers, winter weight gain is real and a variety of factors can have us feeling heavier when it's cold. But it's no reason to give up, if anything, it's incentive to work harder for your health and be in peak condition for when beach weather arrives.