It’s never a big shocker. As the first blasts of cold air swoop in, your clothes lose some wiggle room and your pants require a bit more muscle-power to close. Blame the dryer all you want, but there’s just something about Old Man Winter that makes us sluggish, constantly hungry (for all the wrong things), a little pudgier — and in need of some diet tips that work.
Over the winter, most of us will gain anywhere from 1 to 5 pounds of weight, according to a study in “The New England Journal of Medicine.” Instead of losing that bulk by bikini season (we know, you have the best intentions), research has found that winter weight tends to stick around for good and the pounds just keep piling up each year. Before you know it, those yummy muffins — the ones you love to bake on snow days — turn into an all-season muffin top. No one needs that kind of armor. With these diet tips, you can break the cycle of winter “expansion.”
Slurp away a voracious appetite
“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 of that meal by as much as a whopping 20 percent, according to Pennsylvania State University research. Stick to soup varieties that weigh in at about 100 to 150 calories per serving.
Get your grill on
If your outdoor grill is knee-deep in snow and you think you have to wait until the spring thaw to start cooking healthy again, Falguni Parikh, a registered dietitian at Loyola’s 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.”
Practice two-bite baking
Who can resist baking in the winter? It fills the house with incredible aromas and just makes your place feel so cozy. 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., knows how to make nice with 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.
Give winter produce a workout
“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
Have a beat-the-blahs breakfast
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, as opposed to refined white starch, 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.”
Not only will this breakfast combo motivate you to get moving, but by eating a morning meal, you’ll boost your metabolism and have better control over caloric intake for the rest of the day, says Greaves. Did someone say “win-win”?
Cook up no-guilt comfort
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 make the cream sauce out of 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 some hearty dishes and desserts with non-fat Greek yogurt. Instead of sour cream, put a dollop of the Greek stuff over chili or mix some into mashed potatoes.
Don’t slack on sipping
Of course, you have a water bottle Velcro’d to your bod in the summer when you’re sweating bullets. Odds are you’re not always thinking about hydrating in the winter, however. The fact is, cold-weather activities and indoor heat can leave your body parched. When your body is crying out for fluids, you can also mistakenly interpret the message as hunger and end up eating 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 down 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 points out, research says may potentially boost metabolism too.