Eight ways to avoid winter weight gain

According to the British Nutrition Foundation many of us gain between one and five extra pounds over the winter months. This may not sound like a huge amount but research shows that, once gained, this excess winter padding tends to stick around for good  — but it doesn't have to be that way. Follow these simple tips and you'll not only prevent yourself from piling on the pounds, you may even lose a few too!

Lighten up
Natural light triggers messages to a part of the brain called the hypothalamus which controls sleep, mood and appetite. As nights pull in, the decline in daylight hours can have a double whammy effect on your weight by increasing your appetite on the one hand and decreasing your inclination to exercise. Making the effort to get outdoors for at least 30 minutes in the middle of the day can really help to combat this, so keep your trainers handy and take a 30-minute brisk lunchtime stroll as often as possible. Alternatively, try phototherapy — exposure to bright light using a light box. Prices for a light box start from about £60. For more information visit www.sada.org.uk.

Keep a food diary
According to one of the largest and longest running weight loss trials ever conducted, keeping a food diary will not only prevent you from gaining weight this winter, it can help you lose weight too. The study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that the more people record their food intake the more weight they lose, so keep a notebook handy and jot down what you eat, the amount and the timings of your meals. Then, after a few days, look back over the information you've recorded and see if you can notice any obvious areas for improvement.

Tea off
Swapping your daily winter warming latte or hot chocolate for a cup of instant coffee or tea can save between 150 and 500 calories a day. Over the three-month winter period, that's a saving of up to 42,000 calories - equivalent to 12 pounds of body fat!

Wash your hands
There's nothing like a cold to wipe out your workout, bring activity levels to a standstill and turn your healthy eating habits on their head - all of which can lead to excess weight gain. Experts agree that the single most effective thing you can do to reduce your risk of picking up one of the 200 common cold and flu viruses is to wash your hands regularly throughout the day.

'Carb' your cravings
There is strong evidence to link winter weight gain with increased cravings for comforting carbs such as mashed potato and steamed sponge puddings and custard. Experts believe this is because carbohydrates help to stimulate the production of serotonin - a brain chemical responsible for regulating mood and appetite that naturally decreases during the winter months. The problem is, many high-carb foods tend to be high in fat too so try to avoid the cakes, chips, chocolate, biscuits and butter-laden bread and potatoes and opt instead for smaller portions of healthier, lower calorie, lower GI alternatives such as wholegrain breads and cereals, beans, pulses, fruits and vegetables.

Drink up
Extra layers of clothing, warm offices and centrally heated homes can lead to dehydration. Studies show that even small losses in fluids can lead to tiredness and lethargy which in turn can result in excess weight gain, as when tired we feel less inclined to exercise. Research also shows that thirst is often confused with hunger so being dehydrated could actually cause you to eat more too. To avoid that happening drink at least eight glasses of water a day or for a more appealing winter warming drink try herbal and weak teas or hot water with lemon.

Sip on soup
Eating a small bowl of warming winter soup before your main meal can save up to 700 calories a week. That's the finding of researchers at Penn State University. Subjects who ate soup before lunch consumed 100 fewer calories at that meal--and they didn't make up for those calories by eating more later.

Go to bed
Women who sleep for five or fewer hours a night are 32 percent more likely to gain weight and 15 percent more likely to become obese than women who sleep for seven or more hours. That's the finding from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland where researchers studied 68,183 women over a period of 16 years. Why? It is believed that lack of sleep may slow metabolism or decrease the calories burned by spontaneous activities such as fidgeting. What better reason could there be to dive under that duvet this winter?