During the free-form days of summer, vacations, picnics, and carefree attitudes can all get in the way of healthy eating and weight control. January may be the traditional time to start a weight loss program, but with kids back in school and routines becoming more structured, fall is the perfect time to launch a diet and fitness regimen.
Even the fall weather can serve as an inspiration to be active and eat more healthfully. It's the perfect time of year to hit the hiking trail, or bite into a crisp, delicious apple. Just breathing the fresh fall air makes you feel healthier.
In fact, in a survey of 1,500 moms conducted by the National Dairy Council's "3-A-Day of Dairy" program, participants said fall is the ideal season to jump-start healthy eating and exercise programs.
The moms said they look forward to getting back to their regular routines (53%) and having more time to focus on themselves (41%) when their kids go back to school. They ranked summer second (behind the winter holidays) as the time of year when they tended to put on the most weight.
"Routines are ideal for helping people, especially moms, find time to fit in fitness, prepare healthier meals and make sure they take care of their own personal health needs," says Cynthia Sass, MPH, MA, RD, an American Dietetic Association spokeswoman.
"The combination of more free time, regular routines, and the beautiful fall weather is an inspiration to eat better and be more active outdoors."
A Bounty of Fall Foods
Sass suggests seeking out farmers' markets to select from the nutritious bounty of fall produce.
"Eating foods in season tastes best because of the peak flavors," she says. "Find a new recipe, or use a food in a different way than before."
For example, pumpkin is great for far more than pie. How about pumpkin soup, toasted pumpkin seeds, or even a pumpkin smoothie?
"Toss some pumpkin, skim milk, and pumpkin pie spices into a blender for a nutritious breakfast or snack loaded with protein and lots of nutrients," suggests Sass.
More suggestions: Stir apples into garden or chicken salads. Or make a mock cobbler by mixing cut-up apples (leave the peel on for more fiber), a teaspoon of brown sugar, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a pinch of cinnamon into the microwave for 5 minutes – it makes a delicious treat or oatmeal topping.
Also, hearty soups are a terrific vehicle for all sorts of nutritious and delicious fall vegetables.
"Soups are super-filling, easy to make and freeze well," says Ellie Krieger, RD, host of the Food Network's Healthy Appetite show. "Make them with lots of vegetables and broth, instead of cream, for satisfying meals the whole family will enjoy."
7 Ways to Jump-Start Weight Loss
If you need help getting started, here are seven expert tips to help you jump-start your weight loss this fall:
- Control your cravings. In the 3-A-Day survey, 52% of the moms said cravings were their biggest challenge in losing weight. Eating every few hours will prevent hunger, keep your blood sugar stable, and reduce cravings, says Sass. "Moms are so busy they tend to go too long without eating, then end up eating too fast, or the wrong kind of foods," she says. One trick is to plan ahead: Bring along a baggie full of unsalted nuts and dried fruit for when hunger strikes. If sweet cravings are your downfall, Sass recommends chocolate – a few small pieces, that is. Let it melt slowly in your mouth so you can really savor the taste. Don't avoid the foods you crave; just eat them in small portions.
- Lace up your sneakers. Half the surveyed moms wanted to lose more than 20 pounds but 72% said they had 30 minutes or less to devote to exercise each day. "Something is better than nothing … even if it is 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night," says Sass. "It does not need to be formal; just find ways to add more steps into your day." If you make exercise social (such as walking with a neighbor), it's more fun, less of a chore, and more likely to become routine. Owning a dog is another great way to get more exercise, as they need to be taken on walks regularly.
- Don't fail to plan. Write down your master plan for how you'll fit in fitness and eat healthier and factor it in as you plan schedules for the new school year. "It is not enough to say you are going to exercise daily; you need to be more specific, such as going to the gym on the way to work Monday, Wednesday, and Friday," says Elisa Zied, RD, author of So What Can I Eat?. And don't forget to include snacks in your planning: "If you think of them as random eating, they are less likely to be healthy," says Krieger. She suggests buying portable snacks such as fruit, nuts, single-serving yogurts, and low-fat cheese so they'll always be handy. Snacks high in fiber and lean protein will keep you feeling full between meals.
- Stock your kitchen with healthy choices. Having nutritious foods readily available makes it easier to work them into your diet. Always have cut-up fruits and vegetables on hand; pair them with low-fat yogurt dip for an instant snack or side dish. "Make it a rule to have some fruit or vegetables before you have a treat, like chocolate, and this way you are less likely to overdo the treat," suggests Zied.
- Start each day with breakfast. "Having breakfast gets your engine started during those critical morning hours when you are busy at school or work," says Zied. "Skipping breakfast is an invitation for over-consumption of less nutritious foods later in the day." Try to work fiber, lean protein, and fruits or vegetables into your breakfast. If you're not a breakfast person, you don't have to have much: A low-fat yogurt and a piece of fruit is enough to get your day started and control your appetite.
- Strive for progress, not perfection. If you follow healthy food and fitness guidelines 80% of the time, the new habits will become a part of your life without overwhelming you. "Many people think in terms of black and white when they think about eating and fitness habits," says Zied. "In reality, we should get comfortable living in gray, somewhere in between. Doing even 20 minutes of exercise, cutting portions by even a few bites, and switching from 2% milk to 1% milk -- these small things can have a big impact on your health and on your life."
- Don't forget portion control. As you get back into a more structured routine, it is a great time to get more detail-oriented. "Just like sharpening your pencils to get ready for school, break out the measuring cups and see how much food you have been putting on your plate," says Krieger. "Portions have a tendency to get larger, so keep portion sizes in check by measuring the quantity once in a while."