It's already evident that when cold weather comes along, hibernation mode soon follows. A recent Gallup poll confirmed that Americans steadily eat worse and exercise less during the fall and winter months--and even more so this year than last. In November, only 49.8% of adults reported exercising for at least 30 minutes three or more times a week, compared with 50.5% last year. Only 54.7% of Americans reported eating five or more servings of fruits and veggies at least 4 days a week in November, down from a high of 57.8% in July and the lowest recorded for that month in any prior year, including in November 2008 during the financial crisis. (Search: How many servings of fruit and vegetables should I be eating?)
Given these trends, the seasonal "fat creep" seems inevitable--but it doesn't have to be. You can fight back with these simple steps to rev up your metabolism. Read on for 10 ways to stoke up calorie burn in January and beyond. (Low temperatures shouldn't keep you from staying fit--for cold-weather fitness advice, see our Winter Workout Tips.)
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If cold cereal seems less than inspiring on chilly mornings, start your day with a steamy bowl of oatmeal topped with flaxseed instead, recommends Erin Palinski, RD. Eating breakfast, in general, has been shown to boost your metabolism by as much as 10%, and oatmeal, in particular, can rev calorie-burning capabilities. (Video: Whip up these perfect 400-calorie breakfasts) One cup of oatmeal contains 13 to 16% of your daily recommended intake of fiber, and your body burns up to 30% more calories digesting fiber than it does other nutrients because roughage takes such a long time to break down.
Take advantage of your natural impulse to stay under the covers when it's cold out: Too little sleep can mess up your metabolism, and about 60% of us don't get enough shut-eye anyway. Researchers from the University of Chicago found that even short-term sleep deprivation can make healthy people process sugar as if they were diabetic. Subjects who were restricted to 4 hours of sleep a night metabolized glucose 40% slower than when they got 8 hours of sleep, but the effects were reversed after they rested up.
Sometimes the hardest thing is to stick to your workout routine during the winter, and one of the most important things to keep your metabolism revving is consistent activity. To fight off winter sloth, take advantage of seasonal activities. "Try dropping one gym workout a week and add a winter sport--ice skating, snowshoeing, or skiing. It's great to mix it up and you'll get back to the gym with a real spring in your step!" says Gunnar Peterson, a celebrity trainer and spokesperson for Under Armour.
Why You Will Lose Weight This Winter
Sure, it's easy to remember to rehydrate when you're sweating buckets, but it's equally important--if not more--to get your 8 cups of water a day in winter because the dry air can increase your likelihood of dehydration, says Jim White, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios in Virginia Beach, VA. Being mildly dehydrated can slow your metabolism by 2 to 3%, according to researchers from the University of Utah. Why? Experts speculate that the rate at which your cells metabolize fat has to do with their size, and when they shrink from dehydration they become less efficient.
Video: How to stay hydrated
Whether you're hitting up the holiday party circuit or just want a drink to warm you up, keep in mind that alcohol not only adds calories to your diet, but also slows down your body's fat-burning capabilities. An American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study found that drinking can slow your metabolism by as much as 73%. "Plus, most people don't make the best decisions about food when drinking and tend to skip their workout the next day," says White, who advises sticking to a "two-glass class" rule.
High in fiber and low in calories, kale is a perfect seasonal food to add to your diet. One cup of cooked kale provides nearly 90% of your daily-recommended intake of vitamin C, a necessary nutrient to keep your metabolism humming. In fact, research shows that low levels of vitamin C can slow your fat burn by as much as 25%.
Baffled by kale? Try this simple, tasty snack courtesy of Palinski: Lightly coat chopped kale leaves with olive oil spray, put on a baking sheet, and bake at 350°F for about 10 minutes.
Loaded with metabolism-boosting fiber, hearty rye bread might be better to eat than wheat when it comes to losing weight. Swedish researchers found that people who had rye bread for breakfast were less hungry later in the day than those who ate wheat bread. While fiber fills you up without weighing you down, researchers believe that part of the satiety of rye bread might be more mental than physical. The darker the bread, the fuller people expect to feel.
By now, the mood-boosting power of omega-3s in fish oil is a well-known way to help fight seasonal affective disorder (Search: What is seasonal affective disorder?), but it may also give your metabolism a lift, says Palinski. Australian researchers found that in combination with exercise, fish oil can increase the activity of enzymes responsible for fat oxidation.
If the cold, dark days have cooled off your motivation to exercise, think about taking an indoor Spin class. You can burn about 500 calories per 40-minute sweat session, and your body will continue to burn calories after classis over, thanks to the metabolism-boosting powers of intervals, which you perform when simulating hill climbs.
Take a DIY Spin Class
Eating a diet rich in resistant starch--a type of dietary fiber found in many carbohydrate-rich foods such as potatoes, grains, and beans--can help rev fat burning and reduce overall hunger. Your body doesn't digest or absorb this supernutrient, so it does not contribute to body fat. Instead it's fermented when it reaches the large intestine, which creates beneficial fatty acids that block the body's ability to burn carbohydrates. One study found that replacing just 5.4% of total carbohydrate intake with resistant starch created a 20 to 30% increase in fat burning after a meal. Just be sure to avoid fatty extras like butter and cheese when preparing, and watch your portions.