Our ancestors once feared winter, associating it with famine and struggle to combat the cold. It made sense to put on some fat to get through these harsh times.

However, sourcing food and keeping warm isn't a problem for many of us these days. We have the luxury of eating whatever and whenever we want and the comfort of returning to warm houses at the end of the day. This means you don't need to pack on the pounds to survive the colder months.

However, winter does hold some challenges to maintaining a healthy weight. Here are some of the most common and how to overcome them.
Everyone eats more and exercises less
Just because everyone else is eating more and exercising less during winter, doesn't mean you should too. There are a heap of indoor activities you can get involved in, you just need to identify what you enjoy and find ways to work them into your busy life. You'll also find that a little physical activity goes a long way to improving your food choices. Plus, what a great way to keep warm during the chillier months.

Stress
Don't let the stress of life's daily chores build up. Stress can cut motivation, make you more impulsive and increase hunger, possibly leading to depression, anxiety and overeating. Try to prioritise your workload and delegate where you can, making room for 'me time'. Unwinding using relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga has also been shown to be beneficial.

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Sleep sacrifice
Losing sleep and gaining weight can be a toxic cycle. Poor sleep affects your motivation and desire to eat well, which sets the wheels in motion for a reckless diet, weight gain and becoming sedentary. Stress, depression, too much coffee and exercising your brain too close to bedtime will also contribute to your sleeping woes. It's best to try getting your eight hours every night - if you can - and maintain a regular sleeping pattern.

It's darker
Melatonin helps regulate our sleep cycle. Our bodies produce more of it when it becomes darker and it's often used as a supplement when trying to get over jetlag. There is also some evidence to suggest higher levels of melatonin can increase hunger. Whether this makes you scoff more and gain weight is unknown. But in our ancestors' time, having the innate drive to eat a little extra when calories were hard to find would have been crucial to keeping warm and staying alive during the winter.

The winter diet
Seasonal availability and the price of food naturally affects what we buy and cook. Winter means large servings of comfort food and heart warming hot, sugary drinks are often added to the menu. This is one of the perks of winter and in a healthy diet, there's nothing wrong with a little indulgence. Just keep in mind that winter eating should be just as healthy as any other season. Try expanding your taste bud's repertoire to prefer seasonal veg and fruit.

The sunshine vitamin
Vitamin D contributes to our health in countless ways and possibly helps us to maintain a healthy weight. An enzyme in our skin makes it using the sun's rays - we can also get small amounts in our diet. But in winter, we spend less time soaking up the sun, and when we do make it out of the house we're wrapped up in jackets, scarves and gloves. The precise role of vitamin D in weight regulation is still unknown. However, what is known is that people who are overweight or obese have lower amounts of vitamin D. Aim to boost your vitamin D intake by eating more fatty fish and getting out in the sunshine for 10-20 minutes a day with at least your forearms exposed.

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- www.nzherald.co.nz