8 Secrets for Staying Thin This Winter by Scott Isaacs, MD

     For most people, winter is the season to pack on the extra pounds. But you don't have to gain weight this winter, in fact, your body is working extra hard to stave off those pounds. Winter weight gain isn't inevitable. Indeed, if you don't sabotage it with too much champagne and chocolate, your body burns more calories when the mercury drops. Here are some tips for keeping the pounds off this season.

     Scientific studies show that metabolism, a critical determinant of your weight-actually speeds up in cold weather. Generating extra body heat means burning extra calories. We gain weight in spite of the cold weather, not because of it. That means the extra pounds we accumulate are completely due to the lifestyle choices we make when the mercury drops and we can make healthier ones.

     Consider this question: What is the most powerful drug you take on a regular basis? You might think it's some sort of high-tech medication, and there are many that have profound effects on the body. But in terms of a day-in, day-out regimen, the most powerful drug is food. Food can create or cure illness; every bite you take affects your hormones. Hormones can even be affected by the sight or smell of food. And when do we take the most of this powerful drug? Around the holidays, which can make losing or even maintaining weight extra hard.

     There's no doubt about it; winter is double trouble when it comes to weight gain. First, colder weather and shorter days mean less physical activity for most people. Getting in that daily exercise routine takes more careful planning (going to the gym, or wearing special clothing outdoors) leading to fewer bouts of physical activity. The second hit to the waistline is the seemingly endless stream of high calorie foods that we encounter starting with Halloween going right through to Valentine's Day.

     The good news is that you can choose to make this winter a season of losing weight and becoming healthier. As your calendar becomes filled with parties and events, take time to plan a healthy lifestyle as well. Focus on adding behaviors to your daily routine. The more "to-do's" you add, the more successful you will become. These healthy behaviors will push out many of your less healthy behaviors without making you feel deprived.     

     Here are a few tips to help you lose weight this winter:

• Eat more healthy foods on the day of a party. Fill yourself up with fruits and vegetables. Never go to a party hungry, where you will be tempted to eat less healthful foods. It's still okay to eat at the party, but you'll eat much less if you show up full instead of ravenous.

• Offer to bring a low calorie dish. This way, you know there will be a healthy choice - not just for you, but for others who might be watching their weight too.

• Avoid empty calories unless you really, really want the "treat" in question. (And then, allow yourself only a small portion.) In other words, don't mindlessly nibble on hors d'oeuvres and desserts just because they're there. Ask yourself, "Do I really want to eat that piece of fruitcake? (We didn't think so!)

• Watch alcohol consumption. Many people drink more alcohol (which is loaded with calories) during the holidays. Drink a glass of water or a diet soda before and after each alcoholic beverage to help pace you and dilute calories.

• Turn shopping trips into workouts. Wear your running shoes to the mall and walk several extra laps.

• Plan high physical activity days. Try to exercise on three separate occasions, one or two days each week. Start with an early morning workout. Then grab 15-20 minutes at lunchtime. Finish with a third bout of exercise in the evening. This will supercharge your metabolism and your body will love you.

• If you do overeat, don't "fall off the wagon." Make up for it by cutting your calories for a few days, and adding extra exercise.

• If you are doing everything right and still can't lose weight, get checked out by a doctor. You may have a medical problem or hormonal imbalance that's impeding weight loss success.

     Above all, remember to have fun in the New Year. After all, when you're enjoying yourself, you don't feel the need to eat from boredom or anxiety. Just keep adding positive behaviors and don't obsess over the need to restrict "negative" weight gain producing-behaviors.

     Remember, the holidays are not just about eating. There's much joy to be found in spending time with loved ones and just savoring the season. And even in the dreaded post-holiday lull, there's plenty of fun to be had. Just focus on non-food-related fun: build a snowman with the kids or go ice-skating or just bundle up and take a brisk winter walk.  That way, when spring finally comes, you'll be ready to enjoy those warmer days with a slimmer, sleeker, healthier body.

     Scott Isaacs, M.D., F.A.C.P., F.A.C.E., is a board-certified endocrinologist in Atlanta, Georgia and is author of "Hormonal Balance: Understanding Hormones, Weight and Your Metabolism" (Bull Publishing, 2002, second ed., 2006), "A Simple Guide to Thyroid Disorders: from Diagnosis to Treatment" (Addicus Books, 2003) and "Overcoming Metabolic Syndrome" (Addicus Books, 2005). Dr. Isaacs is an officer of the Georgia chapter of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and is the Medical Advisor for Cushing's Understanding, Support and Help Organization. Dr. Isaacs is a Diplomat of the American Board of Bariatric Medicine and Fellow of the American College of Physicians (FACP) and a Fellow of the American College of Clinical Endocrinology (FACE). Dr. Isaacs may be reached through his web site: www.IntelligentHealthCenter.com.

     "Hormonal Balance: Understanding Hormones, Weight, and Your Metabolism" (Bull Publishing Company; 2006; ISBN: 0-923521-69-0, $16.95) is available at better bookstores now and major online booksellers. It is also available online at www.bullpub.com or by calling 800-676-2855.