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6 Unexpected Causes of Winter Weight Gain

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We know you’re not going to the grocery store and thinking yayapples again! With many farmers markets shut down until springtime, baked goodies and salty snacks are more tempting than fresh-picked fruit. “But micronutrient deficiency from skimping on fruits and veggies manifests itself as an increase in hunger since your body craves vitamins and minerals,” says Scott Issacs, M.D., endocrinologist and author of Beat Overeating Now!.

Beat the bulge: Your body absorbs nutrients best through food, so eating a rainbow of fruit and veggies ensures you’re getting all the good stuff, Issacs says. Go for what’s fresh now—winter squash, citrus fruits, leafy greens—since in-season produce packs the most flavor. Craving berries or sweet corn? Pick them up in the freezer section; frozen produce is picked and packaged in peak season and contains as many nutrients as fresh. (Try these 10 Winter Vegetables, Fruits, and More to Buy at the Farmers Market.)

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You’re Eating Fewer Fruits and Veggies

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We know you’re not going to the grocery store and thinking yayapples again! With many farmers markets shut down until springtime, baked goodies and salty snacks are more tempting than fresh-picked fruit. “But micronutrient deficiency from skimping on fruits and veggies manifests itself as an increase in hunger since your body craves vitamins and minerals,” says Scott Issacs, M.D., endocrinologist and author of Beat Overeating Now!.

Beat the bulge: Your body absorbs nutrients best through food, so eating a rainbow of fruit and veggies ensures you’re getting all the good stuff, Issacs says. Go for what’s fresh now—winter squash, citrus fruits, leafy greens—since in-season produce packs the most flavor. Craving berries or sweet corn? Pick them up in the freezer section; frozen produce is picked and packaged in peak season and contains as many nutrients as fresh. (Try these 10 Winter Vegetables, Fruits, and More to Buy at the Farmers Market.)

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Winter Blues

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Shorter days and frigid temps can do more than make you feel a like you’re trapped in a dark ice cave. Reduced sunlight causes a drop in serotonin, and can result in Seasonal Affective Disorder. In fact, women aged 20 to 40 are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed, and people with SAD crave more carbohydrates and sweets—likely as a temporary mood lift, according to a study in Comprehensive Psychology.

Beat the bulge: Step into the sunshine within an hour of waking. Exposure to morning light—even when it’s cloudy—is effective at reducing symptoms of SAD, according to the Mayo Clinic. Do a double dose on your mood by bundling up and taking an outdoor jog before work, since exercise reduces depressive symptoms. And reach for foods that contain DHA—a type of omega-3 found in salmon and trout—which may lessen depression, according to a study in Journal of Affective Disorders.

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Your Thermostat

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Do you keep your home at a toasty 74 degrees? Turn it down—your body burns more calories by using energy to warm up. “Cold temps activate brown fat—the type that raises metabolism,” Issacs says. So if you’re going from your cozy home to your warm car to your heated office, you’re not burning to your fullest potential.

Beat the bulge: Turning your thermostat down a few degrees below your normal set temp can translate to an additional 100-calorie burn a day, Issacs says. Embrace the shivers for a few minutes daily to activate calorie burning. Try walking your dog instead of letting him in the backyard or resisting the urge to warm your car in advance.

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Dehydration

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You practically have a water bottle glued to your hand in the summer, but you need just as much now to combat cold dry air. “Being even just a little dehydrated can mimic feelings of hunger, causing you to reach for food when it’s actually water that your body needs,” says Emily Dubyoski, R.D., a dietitian at Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center.

Beat the bulge: The general recommendation is 91 ounces of fluids per day for women, plus more if you’re exercising, Dubyoski says. If a craving strikes, have a full 8 ounces of water and then wait 10 minutes to decide if you’re still hungry, she says. And reach for foods that contain a high water content—broth based soups, water-rich fruits and vegetables like apples and celery, and hot tea. They count toward your daily fluids quota. (These 8 Infused Water Recipes to Upgrade Your H2O will also help you score a nutrition boost.)

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Comfort Drinks

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You know comfort foods like mac and cheese aren’t exactly waistline-friendly, but warming drinks can tip the scale too, says Hope Warshaw, R.D., author of Eat Out, Eat Well. A daily afternoon mocha jumps your daily calorie intake by nearly 300—that could translate to an extra pound every few weeks (and that’s assuming that you pass up the tempting bakery items at the coffee shop!).

Beat the bulge: Stick with hot drinks that are no- or low-calorie like coffee and herbal tea, and watch for added sweeteners, especially if you drink more than one cup a day: 1 tablespoon of honey adds 64 calories to your drink; flavored syrups add 60 calories. Instead of warming up on caffeine, consider swapping your afternoon snack for a cup of chicken or tomato based soup—both have less than 75 calories per cup! (We’d recommend these 6 Hot, Healthy Drinks to Warm You This Winter too.)

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You’re Exercising Less

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Even if you rarely miss a workout, hibernating indoors means activity levels go down (translation: more Scandal marathons and fewer weekend hikes). Plus, with cold and flu season in full swing, feeling under the weather can throw off your normal workout routine.

Beat the bulge: Now’s the time to strap on your activity tracker—aim to get a minimum of 10000 steps a day. Embrace outdoors sports—sledding, skiing, or having a snowball fight with the kids—or tell yourself you can only stream your favorite show while walking on the treadmill. And know that it’s okay to exercise if you have a mild head cold (avoid working out if symptoms are in your chest), Issacs says. In fact, studies show that moderate exercise—biking, jogging, yoga—can help your immune system fight off bacterial and viral infections. (New to skiing? Try The Right Exercises to Prep Your Body for Winter Sports before you hit the slopes.)

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By  Nicole Jurick

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