The winter months are typically the time when most people decide to get back to healthier eating especially after the sugar-laden holiday season. Unfortunately, the dietary pitfalls that can accompany this time of year aren’t always anticipated.
Cold weather culprits—winter-related stress, cold sickness and Seasonal Affective Disorder (a form of depression)—can wreck havoc with the well-intentioned diet of both adults and children. Too often they lead to the consumption of foods that are high in calories and fat, which then leads to unwanted winter weight gain. Let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons behind the winter bulge along with healthy alternatives that may prevent it.
Winter-related stress can be brought on by school closings and inclemate weather. Snow, ice and frigid temperatures make outdoor activities and exercise impossible leading to cabin fever boredom which drives a lot of folk to overindulge in comfort foods.
While children run wild through the snow screaming, “Snow day!” parents are usually running wild through their kitchen trying to keep up. Not only do parents have the need to appease their own stress that comes with monitoring cold, wet children but also keeping the snow bunnies fed all day is a diet pitfall itself. When it comes to warming up after shoveling or sledding, there’s nothing like a cup of hot chocolate right? It’s okay to have this favorite when you know the facts. One cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream has a whopping 450 calories, 24 grams of fat and 41 grams of sugar! Try the sugar-free powdered variety and use fat-free or low-fat milk to bring down those numbers to 60 calories and less than 1 gram of fat.
The quick-fix method of calming your nerves while feeding cold, hungry children can prove disastrous when it comes time to hop on the scale. All those frozen microwave treats are chock-full of high fat and calories. Hot pocket sandwiches (340 cal/17 gm fat) and pizza bites (360 cal/18 gm fat for only six “bites”) should be avoided if you’re looking to stay in your current size. A healthier menu of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or chicken tenders with low-fat ranch dressing for dipping offers the same satisfaction.
When dinnertime approaches and you’re either too exhausted or too depressed to pull out the pans, these “take-out” nutrition facts might be the motivation you need to get cooking. One slice of cheese pizza has 275 calories and 10 grams of fat and vegetable pizza is only slightly better at 180 calories and 6 grams of fat. Chinese take-out will blow anyone’s diet—Chicken Chow Mein (700 cal/16 gms fat) and Vegetable Lo Mein (500 cal/24 gms fat) and should probably be avoided.
Everyone’s comfort food—macaroni and cheese—is the worst culprit of all. An average frozen entree is 700 calories and 32 grams of fat! Boil your own pasta and use low-fat cheese and milk—you and the kids can enjoy a quick and comforting meal.
For housebound adults and children who tire of television and book reading, ‘boredom-eating’ can pack on the pounds. Knowing which snacks are the healthier choices can make all the difference when it comes to avoiding winter weight gain.
Snack foods like potato chips are high in salt and fat, even for the suggested serving size of one ounce (150 calories/11 grams fat) and who can eat just one ounce? Baked goods aren’t any better—one fruit pie packs 370 calories and 14 grams fat—yeah, that little fruit pie. The healthier choice is fresh fruit—okay, your kids are making you pull your hair out and you really want a blueberry muffin, right? Well you better get out the mixer and make them yourself (160 cal/6gm fat) because the store-bought variety are a ginormous 500 calories each with 15 gms of fat!
Cold and flu season along with SAD (seasonal affective disorder) affects many during the winter months. Food is the universal comfort tool to ease aches, discomfort and winter’s temporary “blues”.
As far as couch-ridden victims of the common winter cold, there’s nothing like a hot bowl of soup for comfort but be warned about the creamed varieties. One cup cream of chicken soup has 240 calories and 16 grams of fat. And don’t think cream of mushroom or broccoli is any better—for the same cup serving you’re looking at about 200 calories and 14 grams of fat. So much for vegetables being healthier (at least in creamed soup). You’re best bet is low-fat chicken noodle with only 75 calories and 3 grams of fat—better still, plain old chicken broth, you can have it all day and night at only 10 calories per cup and zero fat.
You probably didn’t think getting through the winter months carried with it the potential for some serious weight gain. The fact is that the winter months are the most slippery (no pun intended) when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet. Holiday eating, cabin fever eating, stress-relief eating are all risk factors that can be minimized with nutritional knowledge and awareness. Now, enjoy a cup of low-fat sugar-free hot chocolate and don’t worry about fitting into your spring wardrobe.