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Thread: Avoid Winter Weight Gain
11-17-2008, 09:09 PM #1
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Avoid Winter Weight Gain
By Dustin Driver
Winter is your enemy. Freezing temperatures force you inside, where you shovel heaps of high-fat comfort foods down your gullet. Before you know it, youíve gained 10 pounds and your New Yearís resolution has you shackled to a treadmill. Winter weight gain isnít just an urban myth; itís driven by biology and fueled by mood. In fact, most of us gain between three and four pounds during the winter months, despite our best efforts. But fret not: You can combat winter weight gain and remain slim and trim for spring.
There are lots of culprits, but cold is the No.1 suspect. When temperatures drop, we stay inside. Our metabolisms slow to a crawl and we pack on the pounds. But the conspiracy runs deeper than that. During the winter, we forgo low-calorie snacks for prepackaged, high-fat delights like chips, nuts and crackers. We also get less sunlight, which makes us feel down in the dumps. To combat those feelings, we gobble up carbohydrates, fats and sugars, which make us feel better.
Some doctors believe that weíre genetically programmed to gain weight when it gets chilly. "Your body may be working against you to hang on to it so you stay warm,Ē said Lawrence Cheskin, MD, founder of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center in Baltimore, in an interview with Prevention magazine.
Fat is a great insulator and it really does a great job of keeping you warm. Before the days of forced air heating and good insulation, a few extra pounds could mean the difference between life and death. For most of us, however, freezing to death isnít really a problem. We want to look and feel good.
how to fight it
Exercise is your best weapon against winter weight gain. And strength training will do a lot to keep your metabolism revving. So hit the gym at least three times a week and devise a workout routine that will tax your biggest muscles. Focus on your legs; they burn more calories than any other part of your body. Add a little cardio to the routine -- about 15 minutes per workout -- and youíll do a lot to avoid packing on pounds.
Get some sun
Go outside, even when itís freezing. Bundle up and jog around the block or start a snowball fight with the kids. The sunlight will refresh your mind and the activity will put you in a better mood, making it easier to turn down those leftover candied yams. If you donít have time for a snowball fight, try to take a walk during your lunch hour. ďEven an hour of direct sunlight a day can help elevate your disposition,Ē says Raymond W. Lam, M.D., in an article in Shape magazine.
Take up a new sport
Cross-country skiing is a great way to burn off excess calories, as are ice skating and snowshoeing. Winter sports will help you get outdoors and stay in shape until spring. If itís just too cold to do anything outside, consider swimming. Many health clubs have heated indoor pools, and partaking in a summertime activity can trick your subconscious into believing the weather is fair. Swimming is also one of the best ways to burn energy; it consumes more calories per hour than running, bicycling or weightlifting.
Eating well doesnít mean stuffing yourself with mashed potatoes, pecan pie and honey-baked ham. It means finding tasty, low-calorie alternatives that will satisfy your gut and your mind. Plenty of winter crops are low in fat and calories, like squash, onions, oranges, artichokes, kale, Brussels sprouts (yes, they are tasty if cooked correctly), and cauliflower. Theyíre also filling, which will help you say no to that second piece of pumpkin pie.
Keep in mind, however, that wintertime is chock-full of cookies, pies, candies, and treats of all kinds. Itíll be nearly impossible to avoid them all, so donít. Have a few -- but only a few -- treats to satisfy your cravings. If youíre exercising, the extra calories wonít make a huge difference. When youíre faced with a big holiday dinner, donít deny yourself; itíll just drive you crazy. Instead, load your plate with lean protein (turkey is great) and vegetables. Take only small tastes of high-fat, high-calorie dishes like candied yams, ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, and stuffing.
Lay off the booze
Itíll be tempting to guzzle spiked eggnog, brandy and good wine during the holidays, but donít. Alcohol contains a lot of empty calories and it slows down your metabolism. Limit yourself to just one drink a day, if you must.
Donít go overboard
Winter weight may be a good thing. Assistant professor and biologist Gregory Demas has discovered that weight gain actually boosts immune function in animals. Similarly, weight loss impedes immune function. He theorizes that extra fat reserves provide instant energy to combat attacking microorganisms. He hasnít extended his research to humans, but so far, heís found that nearly every mammal he has tested gets an immune boost from a little extra fat.
Gaining a little weight during the winter may be an inevitable biological reaction to cold temperatures. Becoming a couch potato is, however, very much avoidable. Stay active during the winter, even if you donít avoid all the holiday treats. Lack of exercise will affect your health and mood, and will add those few extra pounds you don't need.