Here are some ideas to keep you from overindulging during the winter months
I don't know about you, but I find that as we get more into the wintery weather and shorter days, I start to get cravings for hearty comfort foods and more dangerously, those yummy sweet treats. As I walk down the holiday treat aisle at the grocery store, I can almost hear the French vanilla scones and dark chocolate peppermint wafers cat calling to me, like a row of construction workers on lunch break. “Hey, I know you wanna piece of me.” “Hey lady, like what’s in this package?” “Psst. Bite me, I'm smothered in chocolate!”
Ugh! I try to avoid making eye contact with the rows of sweets as I manoeuvre my cart away from the endless displays. Crisis averted....but, what's more dangerous is when these goodies are decked out in a holiday spread, unwrapped and waiting for vulnerable hands (and tummies) at office and dinner parties.
We can justify that it’s a special time of year, that one or two of those delights won’t hurt. But, one or two can turn to three and four and before you know it, the waistband starts to feel a little snugger.
So what causes these cravings, especially in the winter? Well, there are many factors at play, not just holiday marketing. Simply put, it’s the chemicals in our brains that is causing all this havoc. Here’s a simplified explanation.
Fewer hours of daylight during the winter months makes serotonin in the brain less active and may trigger cravings for comforting, sweet carbs. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, thought to be a contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness. It’s the “feel good” mood enhancer, so too little of this chemical leaves you feeling tired and hungry. After you consume some “feel good” carbs, your brain desires more because after you eat them, your serotonin level rises. Unfortunately, the sweet, heavy, bad for you carbs are the ones we usually reach for first. In the 1980’s, extensive studies were carried out by Richard Wurtman, M.D., at MIT. He found that "carbohydrate cravers" with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), might consume an additional 800 calories or more a day because they would satisfy their munchies with fatty carbs. If kept up for a week straight, that would add up to about a pound. Add the weeks before and after the holiday season and, Yikes! time to get out the stretchy pants.
So, what are some strategies we can employ to help fend off some of those unwanted pounds, while still allowing us to enjoy the diverse foods we’re bound to be attracted to at dinners and parties over the holidays?
- Feeling blue? Why not try 20 minutes a day outside or near a bright window ramp up your serotonin levels?
- Try munching on healthy carbs such as unprocessed or minimally processed whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans in the afternoon before it gets dark, to help ward off a feeding frenzy later. You’ll want to avoid eating a lot of protein, because that interferes with serotonin production.
- Put yourself in a good mood during winter's dark days by choosing low-fat, healthy carbs like oatmeal with a sprinkle of brown sugar and cinnamon, or cold salads that incorporate whole grains like bulgur and barley. Because cravings tend to grow stronger as the day progresses, try to eat protein, dairy products, and vegetables for breakfast and lunch. Later in the afternoon, have a low-fat carb snack, such as popcorn or cereal. For dinner, some comfort foods like roasted potatoes, vegetable stew with barley, a whole-grain pasta dish or black bean soup are great options.
- If there’s a buffet, taking a small sample of each delicacy will allow you to sample each selection. Moderation. Little tastes, instead of a loading up a platter full of each choice. If you REALLY liked something, live dangerously.....go back for a bit more.
- At a gathering with a diverse selection of food, go for the special foods or flavours that you don't get a chance to experience every day.
- While at a party, don't make it too easy to eat reflexively. Position yourself a few steps away from the food table so that you won't be tempted to eat just because it's there.
- Don't forget to get some exercise. Even if you can't keep up your regular routine, resist the temptation to do nothing. Even a brisk walk outside or grabbing the snow shovel and throwing around a few piles of snow is better than doing nothing.
Just a few small adjustments can help avoid binger’s guilt and addition of those unwanted pounds, without having to deny yourself some of the season’s yummy indulgences. Enjoy!