- It’s common to gain weight in winter and then lose it in spring, but it’s healthier to keep a stable weight.
- To break the cycle, dietitians say you should monitor you intake of sweets, alcohol and fried foods, but don’t ban them completely.
- You’ll lose weight more slowly, but may avoid the seasonal swing.
- Read more Working It Out here.
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How can I break the cycle of gaining weight in the winter and having to lose 10-20 pounds each summer? I find it so hard to eat well, especially when I start – I’m always so hungry and find it super challenging to control what and how much I eat. I was determined to have a coffee and banana as an afternoon snack today and instead just slammed a bagel with cream cheese. I do exercise intensely for an hour 4-5 times a week.
– Fluctuating and Flummoxed
First, please know it’s entirely normal and OK for your weight to fluctuate somewhat over the course of a year – a healthy weight for each of us lies within a range.
But maintaining weight is healthier and will probably be less stressful for you, experts say.
“Having a steady weight is healthier in many ways versus weight cycling, or going up and down many times over the course of adulthood,” registered dietitian Georgie Fear told Insider. “Not to mention, it’s exhausting to go through the cycle.”
I’ve been in your position many times and always used to gain weight in the fall and winter, then I would decide to lose the new pounds come the new year. That takes a lot of effort, so good for you for wanting to find a stable, consistent way of eating and exercising.
To be clear though, no one needs to lose weight for summer. All bodies can wear shorts, bikinis, and dresses, so don’t let society make you feel bad about yourself.
Over-restriction leads to dramatic swings
It can seem counter-intuitive, but if you want to get off the weight roller coaster once and for all, you have to stop using drastic measures.
“Feeling like you are using control to limit how much and what you eat, plus handling a great deal of physical hunger, are two signs you’re on an unsustainable path, also known as a diet,” Fear said.
That exhaustion can lead some hungry dieters to fall back into old habits.
“Physically, we get tired of being hungry or cold or tired, and we go back to what made us more comfortable: the way we used to eat,” Fear said. “Mentally, we also aren’t going to put up with the discomfort of missing out on our favorite foods forever, or the sense of being on a leash or in jail, controlled by some authority that tells us we ‘can’t’ do what we want.”
Fear said that the harder we diet, the more dramatically we tend to swing in the other direction.
Aim for ‘flexible restraint’
Ending restriction doesn’t mean you give up on healthy eating. Fear recommends thinking of it like dialing your weight loss efforts back 50-60%.
Start by easing up on the things you do to lose weight, she advises – be aware of your food choices and portion sizes, but don’t go full throttle into diet mode.
“This is how we go from rigid restraint, (which leads to weight cycling, weight gain over time, and a poor relationship with food) to flexible restraint,” Fear said.
By flexible restraint, Fear means monitoring the quantity of sweets, alcohol, and fried foods you eat, instead of banishing them – this is essentially the 80/20 principle, which is the approach to nutrition I’ve followed for years. It allows me to maintain my weight and my sanity.
Reframe how you think of foods
Consuming less nutritious foods, that so many of us have labeled “bad” or “guilty pleasures” in moderation, can be really hard.
For me, it was really helpful to work on my inner dialogue and make a conscious effort to reframe how I thought about eating. I used to demonize and restrict certain foods, but making space for everything in moderation allowed me to control my cravings better.
There’s nothing wrong with eating a bagel and cream cheese, that’s a great source of energy and will fuel your workouts well. But assess your portion sizes and total intake over the course of the day.
Consider trying higher protein snacks and meals – a banana and a coffee might not fill you up for a long time, but some Greek yogurt with fruit could.
“Flexible restraint allows for exceptions and keeps our eye on the overall goal of making healthy decisions most of the time, instead of feeling like we ruined everything if there’s one slip, because there will be slips,” Fear said.
There will probably be occasions where you do overdo it and fail at moderation, and that’s OK – what’s important is what you do next. Don’t over-restrict and beat yourself up, and don’t throw in the towel either.
When attempting to develop a healthy lifestyle that will keep your weight stable, it’s important to think long term and know you’re playing the long game.
You likely won’t lose weight as quickly as you have done before, but if you’re patient and don’t give up, you’ll get there – and won’t regain it.
“You won’t suffer the dramatic swings upward in weight in the fall or winter, when the accumulated sacrifice and restraint-turned-resentment used to attack,” Fear said. “You’ll have a healthier relationship with food, and set a more positive, body-loving example to everyone around you too.”
Rachel has a wealth of experience covering fitness, nutrition, and wellness, and she has the hottest experts at her fingertips. She regularly speaks to some of the world’s most knowledgeable and renowned personal trainers, dietitians, and coaches, ensuring she’s always up to date with the latest science-backed facts you need to know to live your happiest and healthiest life.
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