Adapting Your Diet & Lifestyle To The Winter

Most of us understand that the colder months are associated with less sunshine, shorter days, and a lower activity level. But few (if any) of us make adjustments to our nutrition, training and lifestyle regimen to compliment it.

Interestingly, some have suggested that failing to make the proper changes in the winter is one of the drivers of obesity. As we end up increasing our food intake in the season where we should be consuming less, and sleeping the same when we should be sleeping more.   Leading to fat gain and reductions in insulin sensitivity at a time when we’re supposed to experience the opposite.

This concept was first introduced to me in T.S. Wiley’s awesome book, Lights Out. Where she explains how hunter-gatherers would fatten up in the summer (when food was abundant) to make it through the winter (when food was scarce). A practice that worked out quite well physique wise, given the need for extra sleep and lower energy expenditure during the shorter colder days.


Today, there’s no adjustment in food intake or sleep in the winter months, and in many cases we increase our consumption to stay warm (or because we’re at holiday parties). Making us gain in the season we should be losing, and heading into a fattening summer with an extra layer and poor metabolic health.

So What’s The Solution?

Well, knowing that more darkness means more melatonin, the first step is trying to sleep more. Which may seem backwards when looking at energy expenditure; but not when you understand that we shouldn’t be trying to fight these seasonal changes, we should be trying to embrace them.

And the same goes for the slower metabolic rate that’s characteristic of shorter days and increases in melatonin. As we shouldn’t be trying to exercise more and “burn calories,” we should be trying to match our intake to the lower output.

The author of Lights Out suggests keeping carbohydrates to a minimum, and this makes perfect sense. Although I’d also add fasting to the recommendation, as this seems to be aligned with what would’ve been the case when we were hunter-gatherers.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be as extreme as back-in-the-day (like several days without food), but adding the once per week 24hr fast I discuss in Live It NOT Diet! during the winter is highly encouraged (if you’re not experimenting with it already). As it definitely beats trying to eat less everyday and hating your life.

What About Exercise?

With respect to exercise, it seems your best saving the 1-rep max testing for the summer. Since high levels of melatonin and darkness stimulate prolactin, which lowers sex hormones.

Depressing I know, but the goods news is, it also lowers cortisol. Meaning you can probably get a way with working out a little longer, and shooting for volume instead of intensity – using lighter weights and higher rep ranges.

But whatever you decide, you’ll want to do your best to exercise when it’s light out, and NOT fear the cold.  Because as far as winter fat burning goes, a little extra thermogenesis may be the only friend you got.

Stay Lean!
Coach Mike


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