As summer comes to a close and the sunny Lompoc Labor Day weekend becomes a distant memory, bikinis and swim trunks drift to the bottom of the closet for the remainder of the year.

The dust is shaken off the oversized coats, scarfs and sweatshirts as we begin to look forward to the rainy days, the Thanksgiving turkey and the abundant baked goods served during Christmas merriments. Along with these seasonal festivities, a 2012 Gallup poll confirmed that Americans steadily eat worse and exercise less during the fall and winter months.

What is the cause of this phenomenon?

One likely explanation involves the brain chemical serotonin, which, during the winter months, falls to its lowest levels in parts of the brain that regulate mood and appetite. As soon as temperatures drop, our appetite increases for dishes that make us feel warm, cozy and emotionally satisfied. These are frequently high-calorie foods like stews, mashed potatoes, or mac and cheese.

Some experts claim feeling cold triggers a mode of self-preservation which sends the body a message to heat up quickly. And that message is often unfurled as cravings for carbohydrate-rich foods, or in other words, the sugars and starches that provide the instant “heat” boost for which your body is longing.

In conjunction with these eating habits, shorter days and colder weather reduce our outdoor time and exposure to sunlight. And in a place like Lompoc, rain, ice and wind make normal fitness activities nearly impossible. People become worn out and overwhelmed from holiday preparations or may even experience seasonal depression — a common ailment during the winter months.

Given these trends, the seasonal decline in health seems inevitable.

However, it doesn’t have to be. The key to effective weight loss and weight management is consistency and patience. Weight loss and maintenance must be year-round. The seasonal habit of overeating turkey and cookies followed by a brief period of intense diet and exercise to attain a beach ready body can take its toll on your overall health.

There are countless free resources that can help get you through the winter doldrums. A simple search will uncover mobile apps like Myfitnesspal, Spark People and Livestrong. These applications help track your food intake and your exercise to be sure you don’t overindulge and underperform for four months straight. Focus on your mood and take an active approach to staying positive despite the damp outside such as getting enough sleep, sunlight exposure and even taking vitamin D-3.

Your hard work will pay off if you think long-term about your health goals and you will have a beach bod next summer due to your hard work year-round.