Losing weight in winter?

I have recently begun a campaign to lose some weight. I am employing the new revolutionary RickJay Weight Loss Program, which revolves around a two-step process:

  1. Eat less
  2. Exercise more

Already, this method has proven highly effective, as I have lost nine pounds since New Year’s. However, Cecil’s recent column on burning calories by drinking cold drinks (basically, you burn a few calories by consuming cold liquid, since your body has to burn energy to hear the liquid) has me thinking.

I already drink lots of fluids, but why not burn off calories via extra heat production on the outside? It’s freakin’ cold here - I live in Canada - and my body has to pump out big time heat to keep me warm when I’m outside. So my General Questions are:

  1. If I spend a lot of time outside in the cold, like walking around or something, can I burn extra calories by being cold?

  2. How many calories would I burn? Say I’m outside in 10F weather for an hour, assuming some basic winter clothing. I’m 6’2" and weigh about 240.

  3. Or would the effect of increased cold exposure be to encourage fat buildup (since my body would want to insulate itself?)


You can certainly burn energy by being cold. Shivering generates a fair amount of energy; babies have special “brown fat” which is specifically used to generate heat, since babies have a high surface area to volume ration and get cold easily.

Burning energy makes people hungrier. Over Christmas, Canadians tend to eat heartily. No wonder the damn gym here is so busy this time of year. Eating encourages fat buildup, cold does not.

Too lazy and tired to do your math. But I’ll give you some equations. Mass * specific heat capacity * the difference between your core body temperature and your final temperature gives you the energy change. If you are 240 lbs = 110 kg, c (spec. heat of water, which may approximate you quite well?) c=4.2 kcal/kg/degC, Tamb=10F=-12C, T2=36C with clothing, still a little cold…, T1=37C… Upshot is the energy used by change in your temperature is small, most of the energy comes from shivering and muscle motion. Have no idea how much this is. But they say people who constantly fidget can burn up to 600 calories a day. If this assumes they fidget for 8 hours, I’ll guess you could burn 150 calories/hour with vigourous shivering easily.

Dr.Pap, B.Eng, MD

Before you join the polar bear club and jump into that icy lake on new year’s day:

"Hypothermia (when the body temperature is lowered to 95 degrees or less) is easily the biggest danger an adventurer will experience. This life-threatening event usually occurs when people push too far and too hard in inclement weather. It is also a direct result of falling into cold water while boating, crossing rivers, or being in rainstorms at high altitude. Overexertion, wind-chill, low temperatures, moisture, hunger, and moisture loss can all bring on hypothermia…

When you’re adventuring in cold climates, hypothermia should be the first danger to look for. When a coroner wants to find out when someone died, he jams a meat thermometer into the warm gooey center and measures the temperature. The time it take for the core temperature to drop determines the number of hours since death. And so it is with hypothermia. It is a slow path to death, but it follows the gradual loss of core heat (usually aggravated by dumber and dumber decisions made by a cold-addled brain)."

– “Come Back Alive” by Robert Young Pelton, pp. 189-190.

And it goes on to detail each level of hypothermia. Not a great way to lose weight, considering your life is also in the balance.

You don’t get hypothermia with polar bear swims. First the sauna, then the ice water…you won’t feel the cold and it’s amazing. Rolling in the snow hurts more than jumping in ice water because the crystals get into your open pores.

But don’t do it more than 3 times…you heart stops or something. Hoo-hah!

Hypothermia is defined as a core body temperature below 35C. Below 32C, you are ingravwe danger of arryhtmias and heart problems; below 28C you lose it entirely and rip off your clothes.

Dr_Paprika, I have to disagree with you. According to “The Hibernation Response” by Peter Whybrow, M.D., and Robert Bahr, cold weather does trigger a tendency to eat more food and more fattening food. This makes sense in that cold weather marks a period where food will be scarce (even for humans until just a few hundred years ago) and any animal that stores extra fat at the beginning of winter is more likely to make it all the way through winter.

So RickJay, sorry, but getting cold is probably not a good alternative to exercising, even if you could avoid hypothermia.