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Keep fit in winter

By H.K. Jones

Winter is a challenging time of year to stay slim and trim. Surveys show that people typically gain five to seven pound gain during the cold months. Yikes.

There are several factors to blame. Cold temps combined with shorter days make it difficult to exercise outdoors. And less daylight furthers your inclination to hibernate. Add indulgent holiday meals and parties and cold-weather comfort foods to the mix and it’s no wonder so many of us gain weight over the winter.

While a small percentage of men may develop seasonal affective disorder—a clinical depression brought on by winter's short days that can lead to overeating—for most, the excess weight is just a result of poor winter health habits. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of flesh, literally. Here are some simple, sensible steps you can take this winter to prevent yourself from gaining weight.

Simply put, weight management depends upon energy balance; the amount of energy you put in (food calories) versus the amount of energy you put out (activity). When it's cold, we tend to cut back on subtle calorie-burning activities such as short walks, outdoor chores, and gardening. These caloric expenditures may only add up to 100 calories burned per day; but this translates into a 3-4 pound weight gain during the winter months. To counter this gain you need to up your activity level, even if just a little.

To keep motivated and active during the doldrums of winter, try setting a regular fitness schedule and, if possible, find an exercise buddy. Studies show that social support is critical for maintaining healthy lifestyle changes. An exercise partner will provide you the support you need, despite the chilly weather. Also explore snowy outdoor sports such as cross-country skiing or ice skating.

Holidays can mean a lot more of everything. More treats, more food, more alcohol, and more stress, which can trigger overeating. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up with a lot more of you. What to do? Eat defensively.

Include occasional indulgences, but balance this by eating more prudently at other meals. Avoid munching and drinking just because "it's there," and if you drink alcohol, keep your consumption reasonable. And never go to a party hungry. Try eating a bunch of baby carrots, a big salad, or an apple, for example, to curb your desire for empty party-food calories.

Expand your culinary horizons this winter's with low-cal gems from your local market. Many winter vegetables are old standards such as potatoes, onions, carrots, cabbage, beets, and winter squash. But there are lots more that are nutritious and can add variety to your winter diet. Have you ever tried Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips, burdock, kohlrabi, celeriac, turnips, or rutabagas? And don't forget, citrus fruits (think oranges, Mineolas, grapefruit, and Clementines) are at their peak in the winter. The key is to eat seasonally.

Many traditional winter favorites including macaroni and cheese, meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy, and Shepard’s Pie, are also traditionally high in fat and calories. This winter give your classic comfort foods a sophisticated, healthy makeover. Try low fat soups and stews with delicious root vegetables and lean meat. Substitute ground turkey in your meatloaf or sweet potatoes in your Shepard’s Pie. Mouthwatering recipes for your favorite comfort foods, that are full of flavor, yet healthy enough to eat anytime, are available online, in cooking magazines, and in cookbooks. Now’s the time to find ways to comfort your insides, without padding your outside.

Lose the all or nothing attitude. Winter is full of healthy potholes and you’re bound to trip in a few. If you overeat at Thanksgiving, have a few too many drinks at a party, or skip a couple trips to the gym, don't throw in the towel. Make up for it by cutting your calories for a few days or adding some extra exercise. Maybe take a brisk walk on your lunch break and after dinner or at work, use stairs rather than the elevator. The important thing is to get back on the healthy bandwagon…your waistline will thank you later.

H. K. Jones is a registered dietitian, freelance writer and nutrition professional based in Washington, D.C.