Got a symptom but not sure what's causing it? Use our award-winning symptom checker to find out – it's free!

5 min read

Winter weight gain: How to avoid it

Medical reviewer:Dr Ann Nainan
Last reviewed: 04/12/2020
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

Research shows that most of us could gain around 1lb (half a kilo) over the winter. That may not sound like much but, over a decade, it can add up.

Here we explore the many reasons this can happen and, importantly, the ways you can avoid them and maintain a healthy weight this winter.

Why do people put on weight in winter?

The 2 main reasons that people put on weight in winter are:

Not enough physical activity

Cold weather and shorter days can make it harder to find the motivation to exercise outdoors.

This means you might be missing out on your recommended 150 minutes a week of physical activity.

If you are also consuming the same amount of calories — or perhaps even more with heavier, warming winter food— you may put on weight.

Winter excess

Then, of course, there are the annual winter festivities, such as work Christmas parties and family get-togethers, each filled with plenty of food and drink.

So what's the solution? Here are five simple ways to avoid winter weight gain.

Get active in winter

When the temperature drops, it's easy to give up on being active outdoors. In winter, we might do fewer calorie-burning outdoor activities, such as cycling, short walks and gardening.

Cold weather doesn't mean you have to abandon physical activity completely. Instead, try to fit in what you can, and think about indoor activities, too.

For example:

  • a short, brisk walk can make you feel warmer. It will also help boost your circulation.
  • wear warm clothes and jog around your local area. Most leisure centres also have heated swimming pools, and indoor tennis and badminton courts
  • buy or download some dance or workout DVDs
  • walk up the stairs at work rather than using the lift
  • try indoor classes, such as yoga, pilates, aerobics and spinning

Stock your kitchen cupboards

Make it easier to prepare a healthy meal by keeping your cupboard stocked with healthy staples. You'll save money and help avoid the temptation to order a high-calorie takeaway.

Healthy store-cupboard staples include:

  • cans of tomatoes
  • spices and dried herbs
  • beans and pulses (in unsalted water)
  • dried wholewheat pasta and rice
  • no-added-sugar wholewheat cereals, noodles and couscous

And don't forget your freezer.

Frozen fruit and vegetables are often cheaper, and you can use just what you need and leave the rest in the freezer.

Batch cook meals such as stews, casseroles and curries, then freeze them ready to defrost when you want a quick and easy meal.

Bread freezes well, so keep some handy to serve with a healthy vegetable soup.

Watch out for high-calorie drinks

Hot drinks can help keep you warm in winter, but remember that some are high in calories.

Syrups and whipped cream add extra calories and ‘free sugars’ to drinks.

‘Free sugars’ are those added to food and those found naturally in foods like honey and fruit juice. They are absorbed quickly into the bloodstream and experts say we should limit the amount we consume.

Takeaway coffees and hot chocolate can also be high in calories, free sugars and saturated fat.

An average medium café mocha from a high-street café chain can contain around 360 calories. This is almost a fifth of your total daily calorie allowance.

Stick to regular coffee or tea, or ask for your drink to be ‘skinny’ (made with skimmed milk). Also, limit your alcohol intake, as alcoholic drinks can contain a lot of calories.

Fill up on winter vegetables

Eating a wide variety of foods ensures you get a range of nutrients, including essential vitamins and minerals.

Look out for seasonal root vegetables — such as swedes, parsnips and turnips — and winter vegetables such as cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale and artichokes. They're filling as well as nutritious.

Make healthy food swaps

During the festive period, you may eat a lot of foods high in sugar, salt and fat, which can be high in calories.

Try these healthier alternatives:

  • choose tomato-based dips, such as salsa, mix some chopped herbs into low-fat plain yogurt, or try reduced-fat hummus or aubergine dip. Avoid dips made with cream or cream cheese
  • opt for plain rice cakes, wholegrain oatcakes or plain unsalted popcorn with drinks – they're a good alternative to crisps and salted nuts
  • choose baked potatoes instead of roast potatoes – both are a good source of carbohydrate, but baked potatoes are almost fat-free. If you eat the skin, you'll be getting fibre, too
  • choose low-fat plain natural yogurt or low-fat Greek yogurt instead of brandy butter or double cream — or try lower-fat custard made with semi-skimmed milk

Get more tips for healthy food swaps.

Want to lose weight?

If you’d like to lose weight, it’s important to stay healthy while doing so. Talk to a doctor who may be able to refer you to a local weight-management support service.

Key points

  • exercising less and eating more can make you put on weight over the winter
  • staying active can help you keep off excess weight
  • stocking cupboards with healthy staples can help you avoid buying take-aways
  • try swapping foods high in sugar, fat and salt with healthier alternatives


  1. How does sugar in our diet affect our health? | NHS [Internet]. [cited 5th October 2020]. Available here.
  2. The science behind the sweetness in our diets | World Health Organisation [Internet]. [cited October 2020]. Available here.
Content supplied byNHS
Was this article helpful?

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.