How To Stay Healthy This Winter

How To Stay Healthy This Winter

Tanya Alberts, RD(SA)

Seasons change and as that occurs so can our routine of healthy eating and exercise. We all know how winter is well-known as the colds and flu season and can be a bleak time of year for dieters.  It can interrupt your workout routine, make you more likely to reach for comfort foods and cause a mood rollercoaster that can lead to overeating.

As we add layers of clothing, we can easily hide the unwanted extra weight underneath. While it may only be a small weight gain, it can begin to add up as we add more winters under our belts. But if you can keep to your healthy eating habits and exercise routines only 70-80% of the time or even choose a new exercise routine during the winter months, you’ll be glad you did and you won’t be dreading next Spring’s swimming season with the kids.

Keep On Moving And Do It Outside

Going outside in winter can be off-putting, but studies show that people who exercise outdoors are more likely to continue with exercise.  Outdoor exercise can help you catch as many sun rays as possible from the spare natural sunlight. Not only does the sun warm us up, but we need sunlight to make vitamin D which improves our moods. A deficiency in vitamin D is linked to mood disorders.

Setting a regular fitness schedule during winter months can be more challenging for all of us but it is the key to keeping weight off and feeling happier. Regular exercise helps control your weight, boost your immune system, enhances your focus, cleanses the body and is a good way to break the tension that can build if you are constantly cooped up inside an office or at home. Make it a top priority and diarize it!

Get off that couch! Always be moving, whether it’s walking, running or cycling. Get the whole family involved and try new activities, like hiking. If you prefer indoor exercises and make use of public gym equipment, make sure to wash your hands regularly.


Dieting In The Winter

Going on a calorie restricted diet is not the optimal way to lose weight during the winter when you need to keep your immune system strong. Your diet should be filled with whole, healthy foods that fill you up, control your appetite, give you energy and focus for work and play, and provide enough calories for a healthy metabolism.

During winter, it is cold and you might be very tempted to fill up on unhealthy warm comfort food often high in fat, salt and sugar.  Instead, find healthy comfort foods such as warming and nourishing soups and stews full of flavour and healthy vegetables. Include a minimum of five fruits and vegetables daily in your diet and go for the seasonal versions that will be loaded with nutrients. This will help to boost your immune system.

Winter vegetables such as sweet potatoes, green leafy vegetables, beetroot, carrots, parsnips, kale and turnips can be roasted, mashed or made into soup for a warm satisfying winter meal for the whole family. You can even explore varieties of fruit and vegetables that you may not normally eat.

Hot porridge for the cold winter mornings is a perfect way to start your day. Choose fibre rich options like original oats or oat bran for sustained energy throughout the morning. People who eat breakfast are more likely to lose healthy sustainable weight than people who don’t. Adding fruit to your breakfast bowl can add taste and fibre for controlled energy levels and it will also contribute to your ‘five-a-day’.


Put Health Into Seasonal Favourites

A favourite comfort meal in winter is Macaroni and cheese. Improve this dish by adding vegetable to it such as mushrooms, beans, kale, onions and carrots. Add butternut to your white sauce to give it a creamy texture and added vitamins and fibre.

Since stews are popularly in season for winter, make sure you add many different vegetable to them as well as beans and legumes. This will increase the nutritional value and the fibre which means that you will stay fuller for longer.

Beans are a source of protein, so you will be able to use less meat in your dishes which will save you money and decrease the amount of saturated fat. This will be very beneficial for your heart health and because you are fuelling your body with nutrient rich food it will help with weight loss or weight maintenance.


Make It Easy With A Plan

Do you have a plan for food preparation? This little secret can save you money as you will only buy what you need. You will also be able to save on time knowing exactly what to make and how much so you can control your portion sizes. Take time once per week to plan the next week’s menu and you can even get the kids involved. When they are included in the planning, they are more willing to eat the food.


Basic techniques to help you plan your day:

  • Eat a healthy breakfast in the morning to get your metabolism going.
  • If you know you will be going to friends and there will be loads of food, exercise before the event as this will help you think differently about eating the food.
  • Make sure your plate is colourful; this will include a variety of nutrients.
  • Eat out of a smaller plate to control your portions.
  • Take 20 minutes to eat your main meal to control your appetite. When you are satisfied, stop eating.
  • Eat the vegetables on your plate first.
  • Choose ‘No’ or ‘Low’ calorie drinks. Water is the best, but a glass of red wine is good for your heart. If you prefer stronger drinks, mix your liquor of choice with sparkling water and lime instead of tonic or soda. Stick to 1 or 2 alcoholic beverages if you are drinking alcohol as they do not provide any nutritional benefits.
  • Drink some water before you eat to make sure you are truly hungry and not thirsty.
  • Don’t eat because you are bored or cold; instead drink a hot cup of tea.
  • Don’t skip meals as this can decrease your metabolism and could lead to binge eating.


Decrease Stress

Stress can cause us eat more calorie rich foods and research has shown that we store more fat when we are stressed. Stress can also cause some people to drink more alcohol than they normally would and negatively affect their moods. To fight winter weight gain we have to combat stress. Stress can lower the resistance to nasty bugs by depressing the immune system.


The following coping mechanism can help:

Make sure to get enough sleep. Being sleep deprived can lead to eating more as your energy levels will be low. Usually we tend to eat the more energy rich foods instead of nutrient rich foods in an attempt to increase our energy and focus. This can lead to unwanted fat storage in the body. Having a good night’s sleep will help keep the body’s immune system healthy and fight off colds.

Be positive and see the glass as half full. We can’t change the weather and ignoring it won’t help either. We will be faced with choices daily; it will be your responsibility to make the better choice.

Be active as much as possible. Being active has proven to decrease stress, improve mood, improve focus and leads better food choices.  Get exercise in anywhere you can like a brisk walk on your lunch break of after dinner. Another activity you can do at home to increase your happiness level is to listen to a 30-minute daily guided meditations.

Finally, if you have one of those days where you overeat on all the wrong comfort foods, make the best of the situation and choose a healthier meal next time. Make sure to stick to your exercise plan and hydrate properly with water.


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