Millions of Americans get pumped up to lose weight on January 1st. But the winter months can make it hard to maintain that enthusiasm: The bone-chilling temperatures can make you want to curl up with carb- and fat-heavy comfort foods, not light, bright salads. Slick roads and gray skies can sap your spirit when it comes time to exercise … and no one’s going to see you in a bathing suit in February, anyway, right?
It’s no wonder, then, that despite all those resolutions, many people actually gain weight during the winter months. “On average, research shows that people gain one to two pounds over the winter months,” says the Washington Post. “For instance, a study of 195 people at the National Institutes of Health found weight gain of about one pound between late September and March.”
This winter weight gain could be from holiday fare, winter comfort foods, less exercise when it’s cold, or boredom (which can lead to snacking). While one pound doesn’t seem like much, it can add up year after year. In fact, evidence shows that American adults gain between one and two pounds each year.
Beat those winter blahs: Use these 5 tips to keep your motivation fire burning hot during the year’s coldest months.
1. Pick a healthy habit that you love to do.
When people think about weight loss, they think they’ll have to suffer. That attitude can sap your motivation before you even start your journey!
Start by finding a healthy habit that you love, and build around that—that’s how you make your weight loss journey become a new lifestyle. And it’s one reason Nutrisystem is so successful where other programs fail: You can still eat foods you love—like pizza, pasta, cakes and cookies—while losing weight.
Expand that idea to other healthy habits. If you love walking in the outdoors, do that! Make it a daily habit. If you find non-starchy vegetables that are tasty to you—slices of sweet bell pepper or crunchy carrot sticks—build your daily veggie servings around those.
Don’t forget the other side of this coin: Don’t do things that you hate! If you hate to exercise in the cold, you don’t have to. Head to the mall to walk in climate-controlled conditions, or try one of these other ways to hit your step goals in the cold. Can’t stand brussels sprouts? Don’t eat them! Find another non-starchy vegetable that you like to eat instead.
2. Embrace laziness: Put some healthy habits on autopilot.
When it comes to habits that you don’t already love, making them more convenient can be the key to making them stick. Stanford behavioral scientists have created a principle that people call “designing for laziness,” and it’s perfect for de-motivating yourself to stop unwanted habits.
If you want to stop binging on cheat foods, like cheese curls, this principle might have you put them on a really high shelf that requires a stool or ladder. If you have to get out the stool, climb onto it and grab the bag to eat them … each of these steps makes it easier for you to decide to avoid the temptation of this cheat food. Studies show this method really works.
You can also flip it on its head: Make habits that you want to do easier. If you want to eat more vegetables, prep a whole bunch of carrots sticks in containers in your fridge. That way, when you’re ready to snack, you won’t have to peel and chop before you chow down. Still too hard? Buy them pre-cut!
3. Buy some cool winter workout gear—or an awesome glass for your daily water.
Having trouble getting moving? Make exercise something you look forward to. Invest in some cool, comfortable shoes you’ll really want to wear, a motivating t-shirt with a phrase that makes you smile, or an outfit that just makes you feel cute while you’re bundled up for an outdoor walk. If you love how you look, you’ll look forward to putting that workout gear on—and once your workout gear is on, you’re one step closer to taking your daily steps.
This works for other healthy habits, too. Nutrisystem recommends that all members drink 64 ounces of water per day. Doing so can help you stay hydrated and feel fuller throughout the day. If you’re having trouble making that goal, find a way to make it fun! Try drinking through a crazy straw. Get a cool water bottle—or one with a funny phrase or cute animal on the outside. Or if you’re more of a fantasy fan, get a big, king-like goblet that you’ll love drinking from each day. Make the act of holding that water fun, and you’ll be more likely to drink it … after all, it’s already in your hand!
4. Plan something for the spring.
Give yourself something to look forward to that will be a reward for your hard work—and where you’ll be excited to show off your progress. It could be a trip to a local beach or lake, a more extravagant trip, or even just a meetup with friends that you’ve been putting off.
Why? Losing weight and winter can be stressful. Studies show that having something positive to look forward to can help you cope with stress. And it might help you feel happier now, too: Another study from the Netherlands found that the act of planning a vacation increased the happiness in study participants.
5. Build a support system.
Losing weight is harder when you go it alone. Being able to talk to people on the same journey—to share tips, learn from their struggles, and even just have a sounding board can be the secret to meeting your goals. In one study of this effect, only 25 percent of people who started a weight loss program alone lost weight and kept it off for six months, while two-thirds of those with a support system were able to keep weight off.
If you don’t have friends or family who are currently on a weight loss program of their own, grab your phone: Log on to Nutrisystem’s Facebook page for tips, and search for groups of fellow members—either near you or around the country. They may also be able to help with accountability, another crucial tool for staying on track: In one study from 2013, participants who posted their weight loss progress on Twitter lost more weight than those who didn’t share their progress with anyone. Twitter may be a bit too public for you—if so, stick with a supportive, private Facebook group, a group text with friends or a community that fits your goals.