During the month of January, many of us are working on keeping the extra pounds off. You may have gained a bit of weight after the overindulgence of the holidays, and it can be challenging to get back to a healthy routine. Shorter days and cooler temperatures tend to make us more likely to eat more and exercise less.
Follow these tips to maintain a healthy weight during the winter:
- Stay active. Physical activity helps you to burn calories, build muscle and boost your metabolism. Try out winter sports such as snowshoeing, ice skating or cross country skiing. Go for a winter hike in a local state park. Take part in a yoga class or go bowling with a friend. By staying active during the winter months, you’ll feel better both mentally and physically.
- Eat balanced meals at regular times. Include breakfast, which helps to boost your metabolism and provides energy to sustain you throughout the day. Include small snacks so that you are eating something healthy about every 3 to 4 hours. Skipping meals often leads to overeating later in the day.
- Watch your portion sizes. Divide your plate into four equal parts and fill one with lean protein, one with a whole grain, one with a fruit and the other with a non-starchy vegetable. Use smaller plates, glasses, bowls and serving spoons to keep portion sizes in check. If eating out, split an entrée with a friend or save half for later.
- Eat mindfully. Eat more slowly and try to make the meal last for at least 20 minutes. Listen to your internal hunger cues and eat when hungry rather than when bored or stressed. Stop eating when you feel full. If you practice this enough, it’s likely that you will feel satisfied after eating less food.
- Choose fiber-rich foods. Fiber is a non-digestible plant component found in foods such as brown rice, whole grain breads, beans, bran and oat cereals, fruits and vegetables. Fiber helps with digestion and fills you up without adding excessive calories. Avoid low fiber foods such as white rice, white potatoes, sugar and sweets.
- Choose healthy fats. Don’t cut out fat completely as many low-fat or nonfat foods are loaded with sugar. Healthy fats eaten in moderation as part of a balanced diet help to keep you feeling full and can have beneficial effects on your heart. Include foods high in heart healthy fats such as avocados, olive oil, salmon, or walnuts.
- Stay hydrated with water. Thirst is often mistaken for hunger, so fill up on some water when you are feeling hungry. Avoid sugary beverages, which add extra calories without filling you up. A 12-ouce can of soda typically has around 150 calories and 10 teaspoons of added sugar. Drinking 300 calories per day from sugary beverages could easily lead to a 12 pound weight gain over one year! Aim to drink at least 8 eight-ounce glasses of water per day.
- Lift your mood. Short days can lead some people to feel depressed and fatigued due to lower levels of serotonin, a mood-enhancing chemical in your brain. It is easy to use food, especially sweets, to make you feel better. Carbohydrate rich foods result in a serotonin rush, which may be why you crave sweets when you are feeling down or tired. Find an alternative method to lift your mood, such as going to a movie, reading a book, taking a bath, listening to music, participating in a hobby, or talking with a friend. Exercise boosts the feel good chemicals serotonin and endorphins, so rather than grabbing candy, be physically active. If you are tempted to find comfort with food, try a steaming mug of hot tea.
- Get plenty of sleep. Lack of sleep often results in overeating and poor food choices due to fatigue. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
- Start a food journal. Write down what you eat and how often you exercise to increase your awareness. You can use an app such as My Fitness Pal.
Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best things you can do to improve your overall health and well-being. It can be challenging to follow a healthy diet and exercise plan during the winter months, but with a little planning, determination and encouragement, you can meet your goals.