A few months ago I splurged on a gorgeous fancy schmancy dress. It wasn't the most practical purchase but it fit like a glove and I just had to have it. Since then, I've gazed at it hanging in my closet, willing the perfect dress-worthy occasion to present itself. Happily, good things do come to those who wait. My boyfriend of three years asked me to a "special" dinner date at a "secret" location and, I, for once, had exactly the right thing to wear for what was sure to be his … proposal!
On the appointed day, I freed my gorgeous dress from its protective wrapping and put it on.
That is, I tried to put it on. The dress, my beautiful dress, that fit like it had been tailor-made mere months before was now impossible to zip and I had no one to blame but myself and my piggy ways. I, like so many women before me, had fallen victim to dreaded winter weight gain but had been too busy eating macaroni and cheese, guzzling eggnog and blaming the chilly air for yet another missed workout to even notice.
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"The New England Journal of Medicine" reports that the majority of us female types will gain 1 to 5 pounds during the cold winter months. And, to further cement this rotten news, research has shown that this winter weight tends to stick around for good and the pounds just keep piling on throughout the years.
Too bad for me (and my beautiful dress) that I hadn't known of this statistic a few months earlier, maybe I'd have been able to shut my pie hole long enough to keep the extra poundage at bay. So, no, I did NOT get to wear my "perfect" dress on my "perfect" night but, to ensure that I'll be able to wear it on my Honeymoon (told you it was a special occasion), I started following these expert tips to help shed my excess weight. After all, I won't be able to hide under the puffy jacket forever.
A steaming bowl of soup is this nutritionist's secret to calorie-control. "Most Sundays in the winter, I make a pot of a non-cream vegetable soup to keep in my refrigerator for the week," says Joan Salge Blake, RD, and media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "At work, I'll eat a small container of the soup right before having the rest of my lunch, and then when I walk in the door starving, I have a mug of warm soup before dinner. It's a therapeutic, low-cal way to curb my appetite -- and research has shown that eating soup before a meal can slash the overall number of calories you consume." Down a first-course of low-calorie soup and you might cut the total number of calories in your meal by as much as 20 percent, according to Pennsylvania State University research. Stick to soup varieties that weigh in at 100 to 150 calories per serving.
If your outdoor grill is knee-deep in snow, don't worry: you don't have to wait until spring to cook healthy. Falguni Parikh, a registered dietitian at Loyola Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Melrose Park, Ill., has two words for you: indoor grill. "When it's cold outside, my husband and I use our indoor grill to make chicken, veggie burgers, and grilled vegetables like eggplant. Instead of frying or using a lot of oil, we marinate the protein or vegetables in fresh herbs and just a small amount of olive oil; then we coat the cooking surface with nonstick spray, and grill. It's so easy and you get that delicious charred flavor without the fat of other cooking methods."
Baking fills a cold house with yummy aromas and makes everything feel cozy -- not baking in the winter is basically a non-option. Unfortunately, your body can also get the pillow-effect when you overindulge in the fruits of your labor. Katie Eliot, a registered dietitian and instructor in nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Mo., channels her inner Betty Crocker: "Before baking, I plan where I'm going to bring my batch of brownies or cookies. I'll decide if it's going to the office, my child's teacher, or a neighbor who I want to surprise. Then, before packing up the treat, I'll just take the equivalent of two bites. Those first two bites taste the best and satisfy my cravings without a lot of calories; after those first couple bites, you don't get the same rush."
Some of your favorite fruits and veggies may look a little blah in the winter, but don't speed by the supermarket's produce section. "The only way I've ever found success managing my weight is by eating lots of produce," says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, author of "The Flexitarian Diet." "Fruits and vegetables are packed with nutrients and fiber and the real waistline magic comes from their high water content, which makes you feel full." This season, Blatner parks her cart in front of winter squash (she loves roasted butternut squash "fries" dipped in curry ketchup and loads up on spaghetti squash instead of whole grain pasta); grapefruits; pears; clementines; and hearty greens, such as collards and kale (she mixes raw thin ribbon-cuts with a quick dressing of tahini, lemon juice, warm water, sea salt, honey, and cayenne). Other great cold-weather options: broccoli, kiwi, celery, and Brussels sprouts.
Shorter days and being trapped indoors can lead to the winter blues -- and feeling down is a great excuse to skip exercise and hit the pantry instead. To stay alert and energized, Sari Greaves, RD, nutrition director at Step Ahead Wellness Center in Far Hills, N.J., builds her winter diet around good-mood foods, starting with breakfast. Greaves says, "I have a 200- to 300-calorie breakfast that includes whole grains and lean protein, such as natural peanut butter on a whole grain English muffin or oatmeal with slivered almonds. High quality carbs can prevent swings in your blood sugar that may leave you tired and cranky. These carbs also trigger the release of serotonin, a brain chemical that enhances calmness and can reduce feelings of depression. The protein helps steady blood sugar and causes the release of dopamine and norepinephrine, which can improve alertness." Eating a morning meal also boosts your metabolism and helps you control caloric intake for the rest of the day, says Greaves. Did someone say "win-win"?
When temps drop, cravings for food that's creamy, ooey-gooey cheesy, and stick-to-your-ribs (and your rear) delicious pick up like crazy. Get creative in the kitchen and typical fattening food can be yours. "Almost any winter comfort food can be made healthier by substituting in a lower-fat ingredient," says Eliot. "I'm really fixated on baked mac and cheese. Instead of using butter, I use whipped low-fat cottage cheese and the richness from that also lets me cut down on some of the cheese." Work low-fat cottage cheese into pasta casseroles, such as lasagna and stuffed shells. Eliot also pumps up protein and decreases the fat in hearty dishes and desserts with non-fat Greek yogurt: put a dollop on chili or mix into mashed potatoes instead of sour cream.
You might have a water bottle Velcro'd to your bod in the summer when you're sweating bullets, but odds are you're not always thinking about hydration in the winter. Cold-weather activities and indoor heat can leave your body parched. When your body is crying out for fluids, you can mistake the message for hunger and eat too many calories, says Eliot. To make sure she gets enough fluids in the winter (ladies over 19 years old need about 2.7 liters a day), Eliot lays out her H2O goals: "When I'm at work, I fill a 16-ounce cup with water twice in the morning. I don't allow myself to head to lunch before I've finished the two cups. Then, I can't leave in the evening without having two more cupfuls. This really keeps me from feeling ravenous later in the day." To chase away chills and stay hydrated, Blatner loves hot green tea, which she says research shows may potentially boost metabolism too.
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