Many people have the same annual New Year's resolution: to finally lose those unwanted pounds! It's unfortunate that January comes in the middle of winter when our activity levels are low and we spend most of our time indoors. No wonder so many of us wind up falling short of our weight loss goals! Then we start eating even more because we're depressed over yet another diet failure. There is a way to avoid this vicious cycle, keep your spirits soaring and the winter weight gain at bay. After the hectic holiday season, it's back-to-school and back-to-work for most people but that doesn't have to mean we slip back into bad habits. If we haven't maintained a healthy lifestyle from Halloween through Christmas, we pay for it in the new year. And the cycle starts all over again.
Most adults gain between one and two pounds per year - the majority of that during the fall and winter months. Then, each year they either hold onto that weight or work feverishly in the spring and summer to lose it, often through yo-yo dieting. Driven each winter by hectic schedules, increased stress, reduced physical activity, colder weather and poor eating habits, this seasonal weight gain becomes a primary contributor to obesity. These factors also impact overall health causing difficulty sleeping, increased moodiness and depression, increased risk of diabetes and heart disease and reduced immune function.
Here's some suggestions on how to avoid the pitfalls of falling off the fitness wagon:
Change your exercise routine with the change of seasons. If you were biking, swimming or gardening during the summer, switch to running, tennis or soccer in the fall. Then in winter, try skiing, snowboarding, Pilates or ice skating. Join a club. Take a class. Get a dog. All forms of physical activity benefit weight, mood, hormonal balance and immunity.
Don't forget your hormones, especially insulin. Insulin and blood sugar levels should be a concern for everyone, not just people with diabetes. That's because when insulin levels are high, the body stores more fat and is unable to use fat as a source of energy.
Follow the glycemic index. Pay close attention to foods that have a high glycemic index (sugar and refined starches) because they cause sharp increases in blood sugar. Reach for complex carbohydrates (whole wheat, brown rice, oats, flaxseed, legumes, vegetables) because they are broken down more slowly and evenly which helps to control blood sugar levels, give you a feeling of satiation and also add fiber to your diet.
View stress the same way you view a cold or flu and try to steer clear. Exposure to chronic stress can cause weight gain, particularly around the midsection. This occurs because stress increases the production and release of the stress hormone cortisol, which increases body fat. If you're continuing to exercise and eat well as you wait for spring to arrive, then it may be your stress load that's causing weight problems.
Don't forget to supplement in January to help maintain a consistent weight and balanced mood throughout the new year. You should add a multivitamin and mineral supplement to ensure you are getting sufficient antioxidants, B vitamins and vitamin D (for mood) during the months when you may not be eating enough fruits and vegetables.
My other top picks for supplements include fish oil, chromium and Phase 2. Fish oils are good for heart health and emotional well-being. New research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids can help fight fat by increasing fat oxidation. Chromium is a trace element with solid research supporting its use to improve glucose tolerance by increasing insulin sensitivity.
Over-consumption of starches is a major factor in weight gain and blood sugar fluctuations, particularly in the winter when people reach for comfort foods more often. You can stabilize blood sugars and promote weight loss with the starch neutralizer Phase 2. This white kidney bean extract, found in many different supplements, reduces the breakdown and absorption of starch calories thus reducing blood sugar and promoting fat loss.
Lastly, switching from coffee to green tea every second day or taking a supplement that includes green tea extract will help boost metabolism. Green tea is rich in catechins, a type of antioxidant and also contains caffeine. Research suggests that the combination of these ingredients promotes weight loss by increasing metabolism.
Carrying excess weight is a known risk factor for many chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and sleep disorders. The good news is that even dropping 5-10% body weight can significantly impact health, improving blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Set realistic goals. Health authorities recommend aiming for 1-2 pound loss per week. Rapid weight loss can be dangerous and can lead to rebound weight gain. And make small gradual changes to your diet and incorporate more physical activity into your day.
Sherry Torkos, BSc, Phm, is a nationally recognized pharmacist, author and lecturer. She has written several health booklets including "Winning at Weight Loss," "The Benefits of Berries," and "Breaking the Age Barrier." Sherry is a certified fitness instructor and health enthusiast who enjoys sharing her passions with others. As a health expert, Sherry is interviewed frequently on radio and appears regularly on TV. She lives and practices holistic pharmacy in the Niagara region of Ontario.