Melt Away the Pounds

This spring, shed your winter weight and keep it off
By Cara Lucas

The months between November and February have a tendency to be tough on the waistline when compared to the rest of the year. Starting at Thanksgiving and even pushing past Valentine’s Day, holidays and marketing schemes inundate consumers with savory notions that somehow always place high-calorie foods at the forefront of an “ideal” festive scenario.

It seems like cruel coincidence that these holidays all take place at the prime of hibernation season. Cold weather is a transparent invitation to stay in, carve out a spot on the sofa, and indulge your senses with smells and tastes you wouldn’t dream of entertaining during bikini weather. It’s no wonder you just might have a noticeable gain around the middle.

Even though wintery temptations are plentiful and most of us do indulge a little more than usual, recent studies show that the weight gain might not be as bad as we once thought. In fact, several studies now show that the average weight gain during the winter months is only one pound.

That’s the good news. The bad news? According to a recent report in The New England Journal of Medicine, most people never lose that one pound. Being that the average adult gains one to two pounds per year, most of the credit for that weight gain goes to the cumulative effects of cold-weather eating.

This doesn’t just apply to the middle-aged, though. University of Oklahoma researchers found that we can start accumulating that muffin top early in life—college-age early, in fact. In a study that documented holiday weight gain among students during Thanksgiving break, the average gain for 94 students was about one pound. Students who were a normal weight gained about a half-pound during the period. Students who were overweight—meaning their body mass index (BMI) was 25 or more—gained two pounds.

So what does all this mean? Well, for those who are already overweight, you’re likely to put on more than those in the sub-25-BMI category. So while those of a normal weight range may only gain a pound of winter weight, overweight individuals could gain five pounds during the colder months. That’s why it’s so important to get in shape and stay in shape: then you will be less likely to pack on the pounds come next winter.

Renovating your diet and staying fit should be fun, not a chore. Try integrating some of the following tips this spring and watch your waistline melt away like snow.

FOOD

/Forget the fads: No fad diet on the market is going to allow you to maintain a normal weight long-term—especially when it seems that each diet’s principles conflict with the others. Although some do introduce helpful nutrition concepts, most just set you up for failure and disappointment. You start a new diet excited and hopeful, but when you either blow it or you complete it successfully, it’s over. Where do you go from there?

Usually up—in your weight. The American Psychological Association found that as many as two-thirds of all dieters eventually gain more weight than they lose. Instead of dieting, make small changes in your everyday food choices that will gradually allow you to change your eating habits and lead to a sustained healthy weight.

/Control your portions: You would be surprised by what you can still eat if you only allow yourself to have a little bit. Portion control is all about limiting your intake of calories and being aware of the amount of food and drink you consume—but don’t overdo it. While you don’t want to eat too much, you most certainly don’t want to eat too little either. Try using portion control dishware and eat on smaller eight-inch plates instead of the traditional 12-inch ones—this forces you to eat less. When eating out, split a meal with a friend or only eat half. If you buy food in bulk, divide it up and make individual servings ahead of time so you don’t overconsume.

/Keep a food journal: We have all heard of keeping a food log that documents each day’s intake by meal and calorie count, right? Jonny Bowen, PhD, CNS, and nationally known expert on weight loss, nutrition, and health suggests trying something a little different with a “reverse food journal.” For example, every morning you write down exactly what you will eat throughout the day, and then simply stick to that plan. Bowden suggests this is much easier to do once you’ve manifested it by writing it down.

Another play on this concept is journaling what you don’t eat. Go ahead and give yourself some credit for those bad foods you didn’t eat, and give yourself a pat on the back because of the foods you had the power to say no to.

/Stay balanced: Eating a well-balanced diet simply means that you don’t consume too much or too little of a specific nutrient. Eating in colors is always a good idea. Fruits and vegetables are densely packed with vitamins and minerals essential to good health, and this is evidenced in their bright colors. If you can’t find fresh fruits or vegetables during the winter months, try buying them frozen, but make sure there is no added sugar. Whole grains, fish, and lean sources of protein will also benefit a well-balanced diet.

“Stick to higher protein, higher fat, higher vegetables, and cut the pasta, rice, bread, cereals, and potatoes. Don’t drink soda, and don’t eat French fries. For many people these few changes will be enough to reset the dials and knock off some of the damage,” says Bowden.

FITNESS

Part of winter weight gain could stem from an evolutionary adaptation that results in subcutaneous fat to help protect the body from cold, says Bowden. Under all those layers of clothes, you might lose consciousness of your own body—or you might just not move around that much. Spring should serve as a great motivator for exercise. Warm weather and longer days are the perfect backdrop to an outdoor workout regimen.

/Set realistic goals: Do you want to lose ten pounds? Fit into a certain bathing suit or pair of shorts? Run a mile without stopping? Whatever your benchmark is, write it on the mirror, stick it to the fridge, or hang it up on the wall, and work toward that specific end. Having something to incite you to move each day will make it easier to stick to your goals and visualize your progress.

/Mix up your routine: Not only can exercise slim your waistline, it can also prevent or reverse chronic diseases and ultimately allow you to live longer. To get the best results, vary your workout routine between aerobic activities like walking, running, or biking, and strength-training exercises that can be done either in a gym or in your own home. The American Heart Association recommends getting 30 minutes of moderately intense aerobic exercise on most days of the week. Accompanying this with resistance training torches calories, tones your body, and even improves bone density as you age.

/Find a buddy: To integrate a regular workout routine into your lifestyle, it helps to actually enjoy it. Finding a friend to exercise with or even a recreational sports team to be a part of can make getting in shape an enjoyable experience instead of a chore. Working out with a friend can hold you both to a higher standard. Once those competitive juices start flowing, you are likely to push yourself farther and get better results than if you were doing it alone.

FUN

The trick to actually losing the weight and keeping it off? Be easy on yourself if you deviate from the plan. Getting fit is a lifestyle change—it’s not all or nothing. Improving the way you eat and increasing your activity levels should be a gradual change, so that you can actually sustain it over time.

/Stress less and sleep more: The easiest, cheapest, and most immediate weight management strategy is to manage your stress and get enough sleep. Stressing only unnecessarily adds on the pounds. Stress and lack of sleep can truly wreak havoc on your hormones, and weight gain and loss is ultimately a hormonally driven event.

“Stress and lack of sleep both raise cortisol levels, which, when elevated, burn up muscle (slowing metabolic rate) and trigger the storage of belly fat,” explains Bowden. “Even worse, high levels of cortisol lead to high levels of insulin, which is the perfect storm for fat storage and diabetes.”

/Make it fun: Keep in mind why you are doing this. For some, losing weight is motivated by the desire to fit in a great pair of jeans, and for others it’s mainly to feel good and improve overall health. Once you start losing inches, your goals may change once again. Think about other life goals and integrate them into your healthy lifestyle in a fun way. This spring or summer, you could hike the Appalachian Trail, attend a surf school, bike through wine country, participate in a walkathon for a meaningful charity, or run a 5K—the list is endless!

/Reward yourself: Reward yourself in a healthy way for hitting your benchmarks. You could do something as simple as placing a sticker or check mark on a goal sheet. You could also treat yourself to a favorite activity like a pedicure, massage, movie, or buy a new outfit. Having something to show for all your hard work can motivate you to push farther!