Courtesy of CWRU
Living in Ohio, Case Western Reserve University students are brutally aware of the challenges that come with winter: slippery sidewalks, frozen noses, snowy jackets and grey slush that soaks through our shoes. Yet, we have learned to overcome these hurdles so that the beauty of the season—hot cocoa evenings and snowmen building mornings—can be enjoyed to the fullest. Keeping with this trend, we must be mindful of ways to maintain optimal mental and physical health during the winter months, especially with regards to the dreaded winter weight gain. Perpetuated by a desire to stay indoors and excuse oneself from healthy habits, winter weight gain can negatively impact one’s self-esteem and potentially cause other long-term health issues. However, health and happiness are not mutually exclusive. Here I have listed several ways to keep off any unwanted winter pounds without compromising on the fun and food that make this season the best time of year.
Paying attention to food
This one seems like a given, but as winter laziness sets in, it’s not uncommon for students to become complacent about their food choices. That said, who can blame them? It’s hard to visit on-campus dining halls or make home-cooked meals when DoorDash is a tap away. But, healthy eating habits are vital to maintaining proper well-being and weight. Studies have shown that diets that are high in calories, rich in dietary fats and are overly processed, are correlated with increased incidence of obesity. Therefore, it is important to prioritize fresh, nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, lentils and lean protein. If you have time, you can use these foods to try your hand at meal planning, lessening the strain on your wallet as well. When sitting down for meals, ensure that at least half your plate is composed of vegetables while the other half is a mix of carbohydrates and protein. Lastly, remember you can still satisfy cravings for comfort foods by finding higher quality alternatives to unhealthy ingredients. For instance, when baking choose natural sweeteners like honey or raw turbinado sugar or perhaps try adding chia seeds or flax seeds to increase the food’s nutritional value.
Get some sleep
During the academic year, you may feel the need to compromise sleep in return for more study hours or time to hang out with friends. However, a lack of sleep can disrupt your natural hunger hormones, leptin and ghrelin, which can negatively impact your weight. Specifically, leptin, the satiation hormone, is decreased when you receive insufficient amounts of sleep, while ghrelin, the hunger hormone, is increased. Together, lower leptin levels and high ghrelin levels work to increase your appetite and perpetuate weight gain. Taking steps to improve your sleeping habits, such as reducing blue light exposure before bed and avoiding caffeine later in the day, can help regulate your circadian rhythm and prevent unhealthy cravings the next day. Not to mention you’ll feel much more energized for any potential snow fun.
As college students, we are no stranger to the effect stress has on our ability to succeed academically. However, many may not realize that the stress hormone cortisol is also known to instigate weight gain by increasing fat and carbohydrate metabolism and heightening cravings for sweet and salty foods. For these reasons, managing stress through meditative practices can help prevent increased cortisol levels and the winter weight gain that will likely follow. Some common techniques to inhibit stress are practicing yoga, listening to music, doing art therapy and performing other activities that can help calm you down. Stress can also be reduced by limiting caffeine and alcohol intake, both of which increase feelings of anxiety and nervousness. Regardless of your preferred method of relaxation, taking the time to acknowledge and manage your stress will bring you one step closer to staying healthy this winter.
Keep exercising (start if you haven’t already)
Exercising is probably the most well-known method to both losing weight and preventing weight gain. However, when the temperature drops below zero and it’s harder than ever to motivate yourself to go to the gym, you must turn to at-home alternatives. Thanks to the power of social media, you are able to access thousands of virtual workouts that can be done from the comfort of your dorm room. If you think staying in your dorm isn’t motivating enough, ask a roommate or friend to join in on your workout sessions to lessen the chance of backing out. Even if dorm workouts don’t suit your fancy, making sure to stay somewhat active throughout the day can mitigate the gain of those unwanted pounds.
And there you have it! A few simple, but effective, ways to make the most of this winter season, without having to worry about the unwanted weight gain.