Does The Cold Weather Make You Store More Fat?

That’s a good question right now, considering that winter is just around the corner!

I was asked a question recently,

“Andrew, is there any evidence that during cold winter weather it gets harder to lose body fat? For me, it seems easier to drop fat during the hot weather.”

Yes, there is, first there’s the psychological explanation:

store fatIn warm climates, people are wearing fewer clothes and enjoying the outdoors and people want to look good when they’re exposing more flesh! In the cold, you’re covered up, so there’s less self-consciousness and no public accountability.

Therefore, most people tend to stay on a diet more carefully and train harder when summer rolls around.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) has been studied at length by psychologists. Often more than just the “winter blues” but an actual type of depression, SAD occurs during the short days and long nights of winter and fall, when there’s less sunlight and colder temperatures. Symptoms include depression, cravings for specific foods, loss of energy, hopelessness and oversleeping. Obviously, these types of symptoms can contribute to weight gain.

Because of their tendency for fall and winter weight gain, many people have suspected that cold temperatures influence weight gain on a metabolic level, as opposed to just from eating more. Exposure to cold temperatures can cause a shivering thermogenesis which means there’s an increase in metabolism to produce more heat (heat production = calories burned). However, if you just got the bright idea of turning off the heat in your house, or going for a swim in the cold surf every day to “burn more fat”, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Deliberate exposure to the cold, either cold air or cold water doesn’t pan out into real world fat loss results, even though there are actually “fat loss gurus” who recommend it. It’s just not practical to freeze your butt off in an attempt to speed up your metabolism a tiny little bit, so you wouldn’t last long on your fat loss scheme even if it really worked. A great example of how cold temperatures affect energy balance is in the case of swimming. For years, people thought swimming actually made you fat. There were all kinds of theories, like, “it makes you retain a layer of fat for insulation, like seals.”

Actually, the most recent research shows that swimming is a perfectly good fat burning exercise, except for one thing:  Swimming, especially in cold water, increases appetite dramatically. The seasons affect your activity levels too. Pedometer research published in the journal Medicine and Science and Sports And Exercise uncovered a huge difference in the number of steps taken between the summer and winter:

  • 7616 steps per day in summer
  • 6293 steps per day in fall
  • 5304 steps per day in winter
  • 5850 steps in spring

Although studies have found that seasonal weight gain is usually very small, it’s the type of slow weight creep that goes unnoticed. Over a period of 10, 15 or 20 years, it’s enough to accumulate into overweight or obesity. Thus many men and women wake up one morning at age 40 or 45, look in the mirror and ask themselves, “How did I get so heavy?”

Answer: just a kilo or two a year, after each winter season, left unchecked.

To stay lean all year round, you have to remain alert about increases in your appetite and decreases in your activity. This is a YEAR-ROUND LIFESTYLE!

Stay active, stay diligent about nutrition, stay accountable, and if you start to experience weight gain, nip it in the bud – fast!


Andrew Zagami