While many of us welcome the winter chill, the change in seasons means more time indoors, more family gatherings and holiday parties, more temptations and less time for fitness.
Most of us gain at least a pound or so over the winter, but studies have shown that those who are overweight or have ever lost weight seem to be more vulnerable and may gain even more. Some weight fluctuations may be normal, but the pounds we gain during the colder months tend to linger long after we shed our layers and welcome warmer temperatures. This can set us up for a pattern of weight gain that eventually gets out of control, leading to obesity and other diet-related diseases.
Whether you’re overweight, at a normal weight or have recently lost weight, here are my favorite 10 simple ways to avoid winter weight gain.
Stock Up and Be Prepared
To help you resist the urge to order take-out or grab dinner from a drive-thru, make sure your refrigerator, freezer and pantry are well-stocked with a variety of healthful foods that make meal prep quick and easy. Stock up on fresh fruits such as Apples, grapefruit and oranges. Veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and artichokes are low in calories and high in water content, which help fill you up faster. On top of that, cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage are cruciferous veggies rich in substances that can help reduce risk of some cancers. Low-fat dairy foods like skim milk and cottage cheese deliver highly absorbable calcium and protein that can keep you satiated. Also, choose lean meats such as turkey or chicken breast, soy foods like tofu, hummus, and 100 percent fruit juices like orange, cranberry or grape.
Fill your freezer with whole grain waffles and whole wheat English muffins, frozen fruits and vegetables (made without added sugar or fats), lean meats (such as flank steak or sirloin) and fish (like salmon).
Keep your pantry shelves well-stocked with low-sodium or no-sodium canned foods, including broth- or vegetable-based soups, beans, tomatoes and tomato sauces; canned fish like salmon and tuna; nuts, seeds and nut butters; beans; and whole grain pasta, cereal and rice.
Eat Six Times a Day - That Means Snacks!
As I’ve always said, eating six times a day is a better way to loose fat, but during the winter months, when you’re more prone to colds and the flu, healthy snacks in-between meals may be even more important. More frequent eating not only helps keep your metabolism revved up, but also provides more opportunities to get key nutrients and antioxidants into your diet.
Keep your blood sugar steady with two protein- and fiber-rich snacks a day from the key food groups — which include fruits, vegetables, grains, meat and beans — and low-fat dairy foods. That helps satiate you and can provide satisfying, nutrient-dense alternatives to the cakes, cookies and other high-calorie, high-fat fare typical of the holiday season.
Also, try to stick to small amounts of healthful snacks from all the key food groups. Some examples include: cups of unsweetened applesauce, containing 60 calories or less; low-fat granola bars, containing 110 calories or less; a 1-ounce serving of roasted unsalted nuts and seeds (28 peanuts, 18 cashews, or 24 almonds); 1 tablespoon of cashew or almond butter; and whole-grain cereal with at least 4 grams of fiber per cup and no more than 8 grams of sugar.
When in Doubt, Keep Track
The mere act of logging your food and beverage intake can help you lose weight, studies have shown. When you find you’re indulging more than you expected, keeping tabs on everything you eat and drink and how much and your exercise regimen is a quick way to get back on a healthy eating track. Got a weakness for late afternoon cookies? Logging your intake can alert you to times of day or meals that are challenging.
Until recently, we written food journals, but now we recommend free online calorie tracking sites like www.sparkpeople.com - its much easier and much more accurate. Your iPhone or smartphone can also help. Apps such as “Lose it” can be a great way to track your daily intake.
A recent study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that using on-line calorie tracking was more accurate in terms of food intake than writing it down. It means you’ll be more likely to succeed with weight and fitness management.
Don't Overindulge at Grandma’s (or Anywhere Else)
Just because you’re off from work or going home to family does not mean you should abandon all diet restraint. In fact, having consistent dietary patterns on weekdays, weekends, holidays and during vacations greatly predicts long-term weight loss maintenance, according to findings from the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR), the largest prospective investigation of long-term successful weight-loss maintenance.
What you put in your suitcase can help you maintain your diet and fitness routine too. Simply packing your sneakers and scoping out fitness facilities at your destination can go a long way towards helping you get out of an unhealthy travel mindset.
And don’t cop out if there’s not fitness equipment where you’re going. Exercises like jumping jacks or running in place that can be done anytime, anywhere. You can even prop a chair against the wall and create a perfect platform for squats, steps ups, dips and push-ups — no dumbbells required.
Don’t Overestimate Your Willpower
Confident you can resist all the holiday party and food temptations? You may be setting yourself up for trouble. Surprisingly, a recent study in Psychological Science found that those who felt most confident in their self-control were, in fact, most likely to give into temptation. In other words, those who feel most secure in their ability to resist temptations tend to expose themselves to more indulgent or undermining food situations that can get them into trouble, researchers suggest.
At home, only keep foods whose portions you can control. If there’s a particular treat you like, buy single-serve portions, or keep them behind closed doors on a high shelf or in an opaque container. The idea is to make those temptations hard to reach.
To help you fight splurging when you’re not hungry, chew sugar-free gum, suck on a strong mint, have a breath strip or brush and floss. Before a party or other event, dampen hunger ahead of time with a protein- and fiber-rich snack such as 2 tablespoons of nuts and an apple or a string cheese and about five whole grain crackers.
Move It and Lose It
The dramatic drop in physical activity is one of the biggest contributors to winter weight gain. Cold temperatures and shorter days, combined with family, work and other obligations, make it tough to fit exercise into your schedule. But, exercise offers a triple defense against winter weight gain: It burns calories, offers a temporary distraction from food, and boosts your mood, which strengthens your resolve to make smarter food choices.
Exercise also bolsters your immune system. While it may not specifically help you lose weight, exercise is effective at helping keep the pounds off. Exercise can also provide a defense against depression or seasonal affective disorder by lifting mood and self-esteem.
You don’t need formal exercise to burn at least a few calories: Playing catch or running around outdoors throwing snowballs or sledding with the kids helps. Winter sports like ice skating, ice hockey, or skiing are also stay-fit options. Or just take a brisk walk — the cold air can encourage you to move faster and burn more calories.
Of course, for many people, winter becomes a great time to begin a formal personal training program. Your inside where it’s always warm and dry, you’ve got to be accountable to someone who cares about your fitness goals, and you’ll have months before beach season to get in great shape. Why not get a head start on your new year’s resolution and start now?
Pick Your Poison…So to Speak
The Holidays can be a minefield for overeating, so plan your indulgences ahead of time. A typical adult requires about 2,000 calories a day to maintain a healthy body weight. The average woman requires even less, about 1,700 calories a day in our experience. Of those, only about 150 calories are allotted for discretionary or extra calories that can come from any foods, including those made with added fats or sugars.
Don’t waste calories on foods or beverages you don’t love just because they’re there. Choose how you’ll spend those extra calories wisely. You may want a glass of wine with dinner, some butter on your bread, or some fried appetizers or cookies at your next holiday party. Just make sure the rest of your daily calories are coming from low-fat, low-sugar selections from the basic food groups.
Eat on Time
Eating most of your calories late in the day or at night (as opposed to during the day) is a recipe for weight gain. That’s how Sumo wrestlers have been packing on pounds for over 1,000 years.
Mice who were fed a high-fat diet when they should have been sleeping showed a 48 percent weight gain over six weeks, compared with a gain of 28 percent in those fed a high-fat diet at normal eating times.
Although more human studies should be done, researchers speculate that when you eat plays a big role in the development of obesity. Instead of loading up on food once or twice a day, spreading it out evenly throughout the day when you’re most active allows your body to efficiently burn calories, prevents overeating, and keeps energy levels up.
Get Vitamin D
More time indoors and fewer daylight hours mean less exposure to the sun’s rays that help our bodies produce adequate amounts of vitamin D (specifically D3). Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps control levels of calcium and phosphorus in the blood to help the body build and maintain strong bones and teeth. It also increases the absorption of calcium and studies suggest that inadequate blood levels of vitamin D can contribute to the development of obesity.
Many people don’t even get 400 International Units (IUs) a day (the current daily value for vitamin D officially recommended by the U.S. government. In reality, many experts urge much more than that to protect against everything from osteoporosis, hypertension, cancer, and autoimmune diseases, it’s wise to up your consumption of vitamin D-rich foods and vitamin D3 supplements.
Good natural sources include fish such as sardines or tuna (canned in oil); skim milk; and fortified foods such as margarine and ready-to-eat cereal. If you eat few of these foods, or want more vitamin D than your diet can provide, discuss whether you should take supplements with your physician. A simple and inexpensive blood test can tell you definitively.
Step on It - The Scale I Mean
Most of the time, we don’t recommend getting on the scale too often, but this time of the year may be different! Weighing yourself frequently can help you avoid packing on the pounds and can be a good predictor of moderate weight loss, according to a recent review of 12 studies published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. People who step on a scale regularly are also less likely to regain weight they’ve lost.
People in the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) — the largest, long-term study of people who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off — weighed themselves frequently. When you weigh yourself regularly, you're more likely to notice a couple of extra pounds and can take the necessary steps to fight them. On the other hand, people who stepped on the scale less often were more likely to report greater weight gain.
Some experts argue that relying on the scale too much can result in diet sabotage — some people may react negatively to slight weight gain. However, a daily morning weigh-in (in the nude, before you’ve eaten), weekly use of a tape measure, or trying on a pair of your favorite skinny jeans can be a good way to help fight weight gain in the winter — or any season.
Good Luck, and Happy Holidays!