If you begin to feel hungrier as winter draws near, you are not alone! Some researchers believe our primitive impulses to stockpile calories for the long, cold winter ahead cause this, even though most of us live and work in a climate-controlled environment.
Several years ago, a study conducted Georgia showed individuals tended to consume 200 extra calories per day as the days start growing shorter. These 200 extra calories translate in to a 0.4 pound weight gain per week. If habits continue throughout the six-month fall and winter season, they may result in a 10-pound gain!
When you throw in special events and holidays filled with treats, such as Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, your excess caloric intake can become a harsh reality. In a moment, I’ll provide some helpful ways to enjoy the holidays without adding weight. But first, I’d like to do a quick refresher on how food breaks down inside our bodies.
A Reminder About How Calories Work
I know this will be elementary for some of you, but calories are essentially units of energy in food. Our body uses calories from food for energy to fuel every action – from blinking our eyes to running a marathon. If our body burns the same number of calories it takes in from food, our weight remains the same. Sounds simple enough. But the reality is that it’s easy to consume more calories than our body needs.
All food is made up of carbohydrates, fats and/or protein. Carbohydrates and proteins have about 4 calories per gram, and fats have about 9 calories per gram. Alcohol also is a source of calories, providing about 7 calories per gram.
No matter where they come from, the calories we eat are either converted to energy for physical activity or stored within the body’s fat cells for later use. Think of fat like a bank of energy (calories) waiting to be withdrawn. These stored calories will remain in storage as fat until we use them. If we don’t use them and continue to add more calories each day, we will build up a surplus that results in more body fat than necessary. This can also lead to obesity.
We can deplete the supply of fat in two main ways:
- Reduce calorie intake so the body must draw on reserves for energy
- Increase physical activity so the body burns more calories
Therefore, maintaining a healthy weight is a matter of balance.
Five Ways to Cut Calories at Harvest & Holiday Time
So, back to dealing with fall and winter eating. It’s important to remember that harvest time and holidays don’t have to mean weight gain. Focus instead on a healthy balance between food, activity and fun. Here are five simple ways to stay healthy and fit during the fall and winter season.
- Make time for exercise. Exercise helps relieve holiday-induced stress and can prevent weight gain. It’s ok to begin slowly. Strive for a 10-minute brisk walk twice a day. Then, gradually build up to 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week.
- Put things in perspective. One mile walked equals 100 calories burned, and 100 calories equals one “fun-size” candy bar during at Halloween.
- Eat a healthy snack before going to a holiday party. Before leaving home, grab a piece of fruit or raw vegetables and low fat dip to curb your appetite. Once you arrive at the party, you will be less likely to overindulge.
- Watch your beverage selections. Although you may think eggnog is delicious, its high-calorie contents and sugar come from cream and alcohol. Try to stick to sugar-free beverages at holiday parties and limit alcohol to only one drink per day, such as a 12-oz. beer, a 5-oz. glass of wine, or 1.5-oz. serving of 80-proof distilled liquor.
- Bring your own healthy dish. A great plan for limiting calorie intake at a holiday party is to bring your own low-calorie dish. If it’s healthy and something you enjoy, you’re more likely to eat that while limiting other treats.
- Take the focus off food. Host a holiday party filled with family-friendly activities. Make crafts, play games or do other things that help people interact more and think about eating less.
I hope you’ll make this fall and winter season your healthiest and happiest one yet!
Looking for some nutrition counseling or weight-loss help? Mercy Weight Management is here for you. If you live in or near Canton, Massillon or elsewhere in Stark County, Ohio, you can take advantage of the many programs Mercy offers, including outpatient nutrition services, OPTIFAST, Weight for You, health and fitness classes, and a variety of education and support groups. Contact us to learn more!