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5 Tips to Avoid Winter Weight Gain

Do you dread the holidays with all those tempting, fattening foods? This year, be prepared for the season with our five-point plan to beat winter weight gain.
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Winter can be a bleak time of year for dieters, and not just because of the holidays. The cold weather can interrupt your workout routine, make you more likely to reach for comfort foods like mac and cheese, and can even send you on a mood roller coaster that can lead to overeating.

"Although seasonal weight gain varies from person to person, there have been surveys that show an average of a five to seven pound gain in weight in winter," says Lawrence J. Cheskin, MD, founder and director of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center and associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.

The good news about fighting the pounds of winter is that cold and dark do not appear to be responsible for overeating, for most of us.

"A small percentage of people in winter may develop seasonal affective disorder, which is clinical depression brought on by winter's short days; many of these people may have trouble overeating," says Cheskin. "But that is due to the depression itself, and people with this disorder are just as likely to undereat as to overeat, which is true of all people who suffer clinical depression.

For the rest of us, winter weight gain is largely the result of reduced exercise and increased eating, Cheskin says. "Research studies show that the 'hibernation theory' of winter overeating does not hold up for the vast majority of us who do not have seasonal affective disorder."

So this year, be prepared for the season with our five-point plan to beat winter weight gain.

1. Exercise, exercise, exercise

"Setting a regular fitness schedule is the key to keeping weight off in winter," says Lisa Giannetto, MD, an assistant clinical professor in the Diet and Fitness Center at the Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. "Come five o'clock, when it's pitch black and cold out, you're a lot more likely to go to your warm home and watch TV if you don't have a regular fitness schedule that includes a variety of types of exercises."

2. Never go to a party hungry

"Fruits and vegetables are where we need to get our carbohydrates, and not from alcohol and brownies," says Jule Anne Henstenberg, RD, director of the nutrition program at La Salle University. "Use high-fiber fruits and vegetables to fill up before a party." Eat a bunch of baby carrots, a big salad, or an apple, for example, to curb your desire for empty party-food calories.

"When we eat outside the home, studies suggest that we may take in 40% more calories than we would otherwise," says Cheskin. "We even have seen this finding replicated in animal models."

So much of our eating is not related to hunger, he says. The more variety of foods available at a meal, the more likely you are to eat more food.

"The stress of a social setting and an environment with many food choices and alcohol will tend to foster overeating," Cheskin says. "So these are good times to be on guard."

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