I’ve been thinking about the extra bit of softness and roundness some of us experience in our bodies in the cooler months. I was having some fun with this article idea and googling things like “natural winter weight gain” and predictably finding a sea of articles with tips to combat, fight, and otherwise wage war on this phenomenon, stuffed with warnings about how you’ll never lose it once you gain it and, urgently, that you may never fit into that two-piece swimwear. I’d like to offer a bit of down-to-earth perspective that I hope will infuse you with hearty winter wellness, and not lead you to fret over bikinis or some other such rubbish this or any other time of year (I mean to say, if you want to sun or swim or whatever, your body is perfect and go do it freely, wonderful one!).
In most places the winter season brings cold and dark to our external world, which are strong signals to our bodies. When I watch our chickens and goats receive these signals, I don’t see them outside doing extra crunches, beating themselves up, portioning their hay or counting calories – they slow down, bulk up, fluff out and sleep more. It’s simple and automatic for them, as is the subsequent increase in activity and loss of extra padding. Of course, thanks to a few generations of human ingenuity, our bodies mostly no longer need to adapt to temperature extremes or famines or darkness, but it’s worth noting that our bodies are still wired to respond to the very same signals in nature. We may be gradually emerging into a new nature, but our brains and bodies haven’t fully caught up with the strange modern realities of super-abundant food, endless light stimulation and unabating activity. Awareness of this is helpful, and leaves me with a more interesting question than the cultural obsession with how do I keep my bikini body through the winter. Instead, let’s try asking this:
In this winter season, or on this day, what do my mind and body need to be well?
The power of a question like this is that it gets us to layers of health and happiness that the “bikini body” obsession just misses. It evokes deeper inquires, like:
Am I physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually well today?
Am I living as I intend?
What do I, unique being that I am, need to feel well?
How can I lift myself up?
The question also gives us access to some of the more modern and potentially risky challenges of winter.
Am I able to keep my mood up?
How is my immune system?
How am I managing the stressors of holidays, resolutions, disruptions of routine, weather, illness, loss, finances?
Am I exhausted?
Am I relating to myself or my body in harmful ways?
When we look, we may see that softness around the belly is not the critical focal point that our culture pretends it must always be. Now, if you are reading this thinking, yes, but I need to lose weight, I’ll say that I hope you are empowered and loving in your efforts. For whatever care of self lies ahead, many of the below tips can help you along your winter path.
Warmth. It’s cold, and our bodies are asking for heat. A few ways to generate warmth:
Move. I’ve been stuck working (at the computer) in a small out-building on our farm a lot of this winter. I bought a cheap exercise bike to put near my little desk and when the cold hits, the best thing I can do is ride that bike for 10 minutes. The aches fade away, my core temperature rises for a long time, my brain works better. The benefits are so clear, it’s a no-brainer (but we need to remind ourselves of this nonetheless). As much as you can, give your body the heat of movement. Need some indoor ideas for yoga and exercise? We’ve got some.
Soak. Baths, steams, spas… let the heat seep into your bones..
Laugh, Play, and Snuggle. Take yourself to that comedy show, get out for some dancing, watch a pile of movies under a pile of blankets. If you’ve got a furry or human friend, snuggle in.
Light. Unlike the goats, the winter drives us in and away from sunlight, and unlike the goats, our human performance and energy output is expected to basically stay the same. To meet this modern reality, finding sunlight and artificial bright or full-spectrum light can be very helpful in winter, particularly if depression or low mood is a concern. You may also want to check your Vitamin D levels, which can drop in the winter months.
Rest. Is it so crazy to invite a little more rest in the winter? I don’t see the goats and chickens sitting in the front of the computer at 8pm. Sit in meditation, sleep in a little more, take a nap, get a massage, go to bed early once in awhile. You don’t need my permission, but if you want it, go forth, friend! What is your body asking for?
Water and Nourishing Moisture. Winter can be seriously dehydrating. Drinking plenty of water is essential for immune function, as is eating hydrating seasonal vegetables and healthy fats that lubricate the insides (think avocado, nuts, olive oil, sesame oil). Oil on the skin isn’t a bad idea either. I really like John Douillard’s ayurvedic recommendations for seasonal eating if you are interested.
Recover. Stress is real, friends, and the stressors of the season can be intense. It’s okay to lose track of your new year’s resolution. It’s okay to take a few days off when you’re sick. It’s okay to say, “no, I just need to let my body and spirits bounce back a bit.” Take the time. Your world is better for it. If you’re having a tough time bouncing back, reach out for support from the people who love you or from someone who can help.
Thoughts. Practice relentless kindness in your thoughts toward yourself and others. Particularly if you’ve got that soft belly in your sights. Love your body for all it does. Love your people for all they give. Love yourself for who you are. Our internal critics are relentless, so your practice will be challenging. This can help.
Habits. Forget about the scale, and instead, find a single habit that isn’t serving your wellbeing and change it. Try one small something new and work hard to stick with it. A lasting health habit transformation is going to serve you much better than any rapid weight loss program. Coaches and therapists are great at helping you change habits if you could use some support.
Kindly loving our bodies as they are takes work (seriously, friends, I have to work at it every single day), but when we do, we honor ourselves, we honor the realness of our journey and we also honor our nature to live in balance with the world around us. Changes are only new approaches to living and you are always in the driver’s seat. If you make changes, may they nourish the whole of you.