Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Four Strategies to Deal with Potential Seasonal Weight Gain

It's that time of year when the weather begins to cool, the days shorten, with many individuals waking before daylight and getting out of work or class when it's dark. Combining these seasonal changes with highly caloric foods during the holidays can contribute to the unwanted pounds many gain during the winter months. It all begins with Halloween, where additional candy infiltrates our homes and offices and usually ends with Easter baskets filled with chocolates and colorful jelly beans. These holidays and events can contribute to a justification of eating additional calories, above our required amounts, that can contribute to a couple of pounds here or there. Does life have to boil down to counting calories and avoiding the holidays?
Absolutely not. But one must be aware of these additional temptations in order to balance one's intake with activity. In theory, an additional intake of approximately 500 kcals per day will equate to a pound of weight gained in one week. While most of us seldom increase our daily intake by that much on a regular basis, extended out to a month or two, these additional calories can lead to three or four pounds gained and set the stage for unrealistic New Year's eve resolutions.
Some strategies that may help individuals enjoy the holiday while maintaining some nutritional sanity include the following. Each strategy equals one action.

1.Awareness: being cognizant, or aware, of your intake is crucial to managing the season. Allowing yourself the enjoyment of a occasional treat can reduce the feelings of restriction or avoidance that can lead to binging episodes of holiday treats. If cookies are available in your office or at home, enjoy one cookie and savor every bite and memory associated with that treat. Be aware of the thoughts that enter your mind as you eat this cookie. Many times it is the feelings that come with certain foods that we truly crave and not necessarily the item itself. If you can focus on that feeling and enjoy that sense of comfort or joy, you can accomplish this with a reduced intake of that treat. Thinking=feeling.

2. What you see is what you eat. Seeing=eating. Place cookies, candies, or desserts in front of an individual, and that person will increase their consumption of that food. If you have a plate of treats at home or in your office, you may pass by two or three times without being tempted to indulge, but the fourth or fifth trip past, and you will grab one as you go by. Availability and visual cues stimulate us to eat. That being said, place other food options in plain sight, such as berries, dried fruit, or cut veggies, and you will increase your intake of these foods, most of which contain fiber that keeps us fuller longer. If you don't want to be constantly tempted by cookies, don't have them in plain sight. A simple strategy, but one that works.

3. Maintain, or begin, some level of physical activity. Burning these potentially additional calories by exercising seems like a "no brainer" yet many of us fail to compensate during the winter months, while clothing becomes baggier, more layered and bulky. Daily treat=daily exercise. And walking the dog out in the backyard, while enjoyable, does not count as exercise. If exercise is a constant struggle for you, try to not be sedentary or inactive. Focus on less sitting and more moving. This small step can help burn those potential 500 calories.

4. Eat fish. Yes fish. I know some of you were probably waiting for this recommendation. Why fish you say? Because fish consumption can increase one's feeling of happiness and joy. Certain fatty acids found in fish can contribute to improving a person's mood by increasing these nutrients to our brains. So fish=happy and a happy person makes better nutritional choices.

So as you sit in front of the fireplace enjoying the company of family and friends, remember to truly savor this time of year with everything it has to offer and as you are doing so, stand up, place some tuna in front of you, and as you eat it think about the summer months of easy living and good times.
Enjoy the season.

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