It’s no surprise that January is the most popular month for joining gyms, starting weight loss programs and doing a detox. The festive season brings plenty of temptations and indulgences that involve alcohol, sugar and fat, and putting on weight is a common problem.
This can leave us feeling lethargic, uncomfortable in our bodies and desperate to change the way we feel, all of which can drive us towards a knee-jerk diet or detox.
Winter, however, is not the right time to starve ourselves or to detox, but there are ways in which you can make yourself feel better and lose weight that are appropriate for this time of year.
Here are the 2 best natural and nourishing ways to gently cleanse and lose weight over the winter without over-stressing your body.
Tip One - Start hydrating!
The single most important step you can take to help your body flush out stored toxins and release any congestion and stagnancy from the overload of alcohol, sugar and overeating is to drink more water. Toxins are often stored in our fat cells, so as we lose weight they are released into our blood stream.
Depending on gender, your body uses around 2-3 litres of water in a day (2l for women / 2.5l for men) just to complete daily tasks like digestion, breathing, urine production and maintaining blood pressure. If you are not replacing this amount through consuming water then you are going to be dehydrated (you may need more than the standard daily amount if you exercise or are sick).
Water consumed in tea, coffee, soft drinks and in food (like soups and stews or lots of vegetables) does count, however, you could also be consuming empty calories, chemicals and toxins, and diuretic compounds that make you excrete more water. Better to err on the side of caution and drink lots of pure, clean water if you can.
The quality of water you consume is also important:
Tap water can contain chemicals, pharmaceutical products, metals and bacteria. You can test your tap water to check what is in it or you can buy a filter.
Drinking water that comes in single-use plastic bottles is bad for the environment and it can still contain toxins. Buy yourself a PCB free or glass reusable water bottle with its own filter so you can fill up anywhere and know that your water is clean.
Here are some great ideas for improving your hydration:
Cut down on caffeinated and sweetened (or diet) beverages - replace tea/coffee/cordial/soft drinks with a glass of water, or a cup of herbal tea or hot water with fresh lemon juice.
Go slow – don’t flood your body with lots of water all in one go. Going from a glass or two a day to two litres is not a good idea, you will end up on the toilet all day!
Add water in slowly so that your body can adjust and absorb it, gradually rehydrating over days. Then be consistent with drinking a regular amount every day.
Drink a glass of warm water with freshly squeezed lemon juice every morning on waking.
Take a small glass of water with every coffee/tea/alcoholic drink you have.
Eat soups and stews – consume hydrating food rather than dry food that will take moisture from your body.
Do all the above consistently to properly hydrate.
EXTRA TIP: Buying a water bottle with an in-built filter will not only help ensure the quality of the water you are drinking, but it is a great way to monitor the amount of water you drink through the day (just count the number of refills)
Improvements you should feel are:
Less “toxic” - water is essential for flushing toxins out of your body
Good blood pressure balance
Improved digestion – better absorption and better bowel movements
Less hunger – often the hunger signal is actually a sign of dehydration
Tip Two – “Find your rhythm” – control your circadian rhythm, control your weight!
Our Circadian rhythm is a 24 hour cycle that influences every cell in our bodies. It is set by a specific part of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (great name, SNS for short!). This rhythm is vital for coordinating the timings of all of the complex cellular processes that keep us healthy.
The circadian rhythm in our cells regulates metabolic processes including glucose and lipid balance, hormone release, immune response and digestive processes. If you disrupt the circadian rhythm you disrupt those processes which can then lead to gaining fat.
There is a natural cycle for our bodies that optimises our health; it is one where we are in tune with our natural environment.
Here are 3 simple rules that help us maintain this cycle in winter:
Eat carbs early in the day and stop eating at night - this keeps our blood sugars balanced.
Activity and energy expenditure are more beneficial earlier on in the day – this maximises our metabolism, burning fat faster .
Exposure to light is important in the morning (sunrise), and then as daylight fades we should also limit our light exposure in tandem to it – this improves sleep and regeneration.
Our bodies literally synchronise to whatever consistent pattern we live in. Our eating, sleeping and exercise routines, as well as the quantity and quality of the light we are exposed to, will train our circadian clock.
In the winter we often have to get up in the morning before the sunrise and we stay awake and active after sunset; this immediately upsets our circadian rhythm and leads to lack of sleep, disrupted eating patterns, and imbalanced hormonal secretions that cause weight gain.
Winter’s effects on a busy, working human being include:
Rising before the sun - Our bodies will not have produced enough of the hormone cortisol yet to stimulate us into action and we will still have a large amount of melatonin circulating which maintains our sleepiness.
Less hours of daylight - Our daylight exposure is limited because there is less of it in the winter and most of us will spend all day inside in artificially lit environments. This artificial light is stimulating to our brain and will encourage cortisol production which is great to get us mentally alert and stimulated.
It becomes a problem though when we continue this artificially stimulating light exposure all day and into the evening, when we should be winding down. This interrupts the production of melatonin and we won’t be able to sync with a normal, healthy sleeping pattern.
It is hard to find a good healthy balance in the winter but there are things you can do:
Use a sunrise alarm clock that has a daylight bulb and can simulate a sunrise, stimulating cortisol production gradually
Make sure you get outside to expose yourself to natural light as much as possible
Use blue light blocking glasses after sunset to block the stimulating blue light and encourage melatonin production
Limit your eating hours by finishing your evening meal as early as you can
Don’t snack in the evening
Takeaway truths about avoiding weight gain in winter
Eat earlier in the day, and don’t snack in the evening
Try to limit your exposure to blue light later on in the day
Maintain a regular sleep pattern
The good news about fat
Fat gets a lot of negative attention, but there are some things about fat that are vital to our health.
Did you know?
After puberty fat cell production more or less ceases. Your body can store more fat, but the number of fat cells remains the same. Each fat cell just gets bigger as it is forced to store more fat. 2 exceptions – excessive weight gain will generate more fat cells, and after liposuction the body produces more fat cells.
Fat tissue provides heat insulation and mechanical cushioning for vital organs.
Fat tissue contains hormone producing cells that are vital for regulating blood sugar, cholesterol and sex hormones, blood clotting, blood pressure and the storage and release of fat for energy.
So we need fat, especially in the winter when we are cold. But if we have too much fat we interfere with those hormonal processes. We need a good balance.
The good news about metabolism and weight loss
Did you know?
You burn more calories in your resting metabolic state.
Metabolism is the process your cells go through to burn fuel to generate energy. We have three rates of metabolism:
basal metabolism, the energy used for basic functioning while at rest (sleeping, not exercising)
energy used to break down food
energy used for physical activity.
Of the total calories you burn in one day your resting metabolism accounts for 60 to 80% while digestion accounts for about 10% and physical activity is from 10 to 30% (unless you are a professional athlete or have an extremely physically demanding life).
So, you will get better weight loss results from adjusting diet, and therefore taking in less fuel, than you will from exercising. Exercising can also trigger increased hunger which leads to higher calorie consumption, negating the energy used to exercise.
Exercise, of course, offers many other very important health benefits and we should all exercise regularly, but weight loss should not be the main focus.
Metabolic individuality can make a big difference in our body types
There can be significant variation in metabolic rates depending on gender, age, genetics and lifestyle. And although there is a lot of research going on it is still unclear as to how we can assess our own metabolic individuality.
Dieting slows down metabolism.
As we lose weight the basal metabolic rate slows down. This makes sense as losing weight often means we lose muscle mass too and so metabolic rate adapts to our smaller body.
However, in dieters who lose a lot of weight quickly, this leads to a greater metabolic slow down than the body size demands. This slow down effect can last for years after the weight loss and makes the metabolism less efficient, leading to greater weight gain over a long period. Slow weight loss does not have the same effect.
You can’t speed up your metabolism by eating
Despite beliefs to the contrary, consuming chilli, spices and drinking coffee will not shift your metabolism up a gear. The results are too short lived.
You can speed up metabolism with more muscle
If you build more muscle and lose some fat, your body will need more energy to fuel the muscles and so your metabolic rate increases.
However, so will your appetite! You will need to exercise more to build muscle, which means a higher energy output and nutritional demand; you will feel a lot hungrier! And in order to build enough significant muscle you will have to keep up an intense exercise program which is hard to maintain.