As the days get shorter and the temperatures drop, beware the winter doldrums: scaling back your training as you scale up your eating. The inevitable result--extra pounds--may be more than you bargained for. Think of it like a house guest who overstays his visit. It's enjoyable in the beginning, but not much fun by the end. While it's appropriate, and even advisable to replace any weight you may have dropped during the fall (training for a marathon, for example), don't go overboard. Here are some strategies to put in place this winter to avoid packing on excessive pounds.
Hit the Weight Room
If dust collects on your treadmill as you celebrate from Thanksgiving through Valentine's Day, any weight you gain will be primarily body fat. If you desire a break from running, pick up another sport or activity and do it for fun. Winter is also the ideal time to participate in a well-designed strength-training program (upper and lower body exercises) at least three times a week. Lifting weights will help you retain, as well as build, lean muscle mass. Muscle is metabolically active and burns calories, while body fat just sits there and takes up space.
Eat Regular Meals
If skipping meals is the strategy you employ to try and ward off winter weight gain, think again. Starving yourself during the day inevitably leads to "feasting" or overeating at night. Anytime you allow yourself to get too hungry it's easy to overindulge. How many times have you eaten half a box of crackers while trying to decide what to have for dinner? Choose to have breakfast, make time for lunch and sit down for dinner. The time to "diet" is between dinner and bedtime.
Watch out for "Carbo-Overloading"
Save the softball-sized bagels and platters of pasta for when you're racking up the miles. When you're less active, you don't need as many carbohydrates (the body's preferred fuel during exercise). To avoid "carbo-overloading" on starchy foods, divide your plate into thirds. Fill one-third with vegetables, one-third with lean protein (skinless chicken, fish, lean red meat, or tofu) and one-third with beans, potatoes, pasta or rice.
Water, low-fat milk or soymilk, 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice and herbal tea, that is. It's easy to rack up excess calories from beverages-particularly soda and alcohol. If you dine out frequently, start each meal by drinking a full glass of water. At parties, alternate alcoholic drinks with nonalcoholic beverages such as club soda or mineral water with a twist. Or choose a wine spritzer (wine and soda water). When it comes to drinking juice, limit yourself to 6 to 8 oz. Eat real fruit instead.
Make Your Calories Count
Maintaining a healthful weight hinges on balancing the calories you consume with the calories you expend. During holiday parties and family get-togethers, treat yourself to what you really want and savor it. Avoid wasting calories on ordinary foods you can have any day-rolls, nuts, olives and cheese and crackers. Be choosy about what you want and slow down and allow yourself to really enjoy it. Eat your favorite item first as saving the best for last only encourages eating beyond feeling satisfied. Remember: you can have anything you want, just not everything at the same time. Pick the best and forget the rest.
Step on the Scale
If you're typically weighed down each spring with unwanted pounds, make it a habit to step on the scale once a week (or even every day) throughout the winter months. Weigh yourself without clothes in the morning after visiting the bathroom. You can adjust calorie intake if the pounds start to pile up beyond a healthy range (two to five pounds). Take responsibility for your body and address small gains before they grow into an unreasonable problem.