You know that feeling that stirs up whenever the temperature begins to drop?
You start to prepare for the holidays, complete with fun parties from Halloween through New Year’s. You want warm comfort foods instead of fresh, leafy salads. You think, “I’ll have just one more sugar cookie.” (You’ll have lots of layers to hide an extra pound or two, and you’ve officially retired your bikini for the long haul anyway). And the lure of those Pumpkin Spice Lattes have you racking up your tab at Starbucks–and your daily calorie count.
This type of “hibernation mode” makes your body crave high-calorie, high-carb snacks as your brain produces more serotonin. Serotonin, also known as the calming hormone, can make you feel sleepy and lethargic, which may mean working out less and noshing on comfort foods more.
The link between sweater season and slack diets is obvious, so in order to survive the fall without packing on the pounds, follow these general rules for keeping your appetite in check.
Rule #1: Try to maintain weight instead of trying to lose it.
Dawn Napoli, RD, registered dietitian at UF Health Cancer Center at Orlando Health, says between the holiday parties, the creamy n’ cheesy food offerings and exercise roadblocks during sweater season, a realistic goal is to maintain your current weight instead of trying to shed the last five pounds. If you try to resist temptation and take the weight off while you’re having more treats than usual, it probably won’t work–and you might get frustrated and fall off the wagon.
On top of that, you won’t enjoy yourself at all on a strict regimen. “Check the scale periodically, so you know where you’re at,” she says. “And think ahead. If you’re going to a party on the weekend, just watch what you eat during the week, or up your exercise a bit in preparation.”
Rule #2: Remember to hydrate (correctly).
When you’re not sweating, you might forget that you still need liquids to keep your body fueled–and prevent faux hunger pangs. “In terms of maintaining weight, hydrating is key for that feeling of satiety,” Napoli says. “What you drink matters, too. Watch your alcohol intake, no soda, and skip the high-calorie lattes and eggnog.” Napoli says to opt for a wine spritzer or lite beer at parties, or warm up with a modest indulgence. Try a lite or soy-based eggnog, a black or herbal tea, or a skim or soy latte with a sprinkling of cinnamon or nutmeg on top.
Rule #3: Get up and move.
Even if you’re comfy on the couch and it’s cold outside at first, you will warm up once you get outside and get moving. “Head to an inside workout like spinning, Zumba, or just grab the resistance band while you’re sitting down watching TV,” Napoli says. “You can also get the family outside with walking tours or cider mill trips. Do something that doesn’t feel like exercise.” Working out and fun are not mutually exclusive terms, folks.
Rule #4: Be smart at special gatherings.
There are so many yummy foods to sample at holiday parties, but you can’t have everything all the time. “Think about what you’re eating early in the day of an event,” Napoli says. “Don’t starve yourself, or you’ll wind up overindulging later on, which is what my clients sometimes do, even though it’s the exact opposite of what I want!”
Fill up on fiber early in the day (fruits, veggies, a serving of nuts or beans), so you don’t feel like stuffing yourself by showtime. When you get there, choose the smaller plate so you’re not tempted to overdo it. Take a survey of the table before you dig in and opt for three to four items you really want. “If grandma is bringing her pecan pie, make that your indulgence,” Napoli says.
Rule #5: Opt for the real deal, not the “flavors” of the season.
Did you know you won’t actually find pumpkin in your Pumpkin Spice Latte? (You’re not alone. Many people did not!) Sweater season is full of artificial tastes. “Eat the flavors of the season, but skip seasonal flavorings,” Napoli says. That means pumpkin-spice, apple-pie, sugar-cookie-flavored anything is just a sugar high treat with no real fruits or vegetables. Instead, actually eat foods like beets, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, squash and in-season produce. Top them off with a little nutmeg or cinnamon to give you the sweet flavor without the excess sugar.