It's that time of year: The clock has turned back, Halloween is over, stores are preparing for the holidays and our diets go by the wayside.
Farewell, bikinis and salads. Hello, big sweaters and comfort food. All those yummy holiday meals will invariably add a few pounds that we'll struggle to lose when the New Year starts.
How about finally putting an end to the seasonal cycle? Staying on track during winter means establishing healthy habits that will be with you throughout the year--habits you will celebrate as the sunny days return and you are ready to shed the sweaters.
Here are my top five tips to stay in shape throughout the holiday season:
1. Don't stop exercising.
Shorter days, frosty temperatures, bad weather: Excuses are easier to find at this time of year. As a result we burn less calories than we take in, and the first pounds soon settle in.
The solution: Keep up your usual activity levels and, if need be, create a schedule to keep you from procrastinating. Opt for more indoor activities and reconsider what time of day you exercise.
2. Allow yourself one indulgence meal per week.
This might be the season of holiday dinners and office parties, but by overindulging on all of those occasions you run the risk of packing on the pounds fast. The trap? Telling yourself that because it's the holidays you might as well relax and enjoy yourself -- and that January will be the time for "starting fresh."
The solution: Plan one pleasure meal a week. But whatever the dish, always have steamed vegetables in place of bread or potatoes. Counterbalance with some "light" days, with all-fruit breakfasts and enough exercise to sweat off the excesses of the table.
3. Eat winter fruits and vegetables.
Flu, tonsillitis, coughs and sniffles and other bugs: This is also the time of the year our immune system is under the most strain. If you're not eating enough vegetables and fruits, you're probably not getting enough vitamins and antioxidants. As a result, you end up fighting one winter illness after another and have little energy to move, let alone exercise.
The solution: Load up on seasonal fruit and vegetables. Gorge on colorful root-vegetable salads and steamed or stir-fried veggies. The choices might not seem as broad as in the summer, but there is plenty out there you might not have explored. Don't hesitate to try something new.
4. Start with a soup.
Every winter the same thing happens: You get home from work or school cold, hungry and desperate for something hearty and warming.
The solution: Begin every meal with a homemade seasonal vegetable soup. Brimming with vitamins, minerals and fiber, it will fill you up before you tackle the rest of your meal. Prepare a big batch and freeze the extra so you'll have a stash ready to eat in minutes.
5. Stay motivated.
How do you keep up the motivation when it's cold and dark outside? Staying active and getting outdoors -- even for a short while, preferably at the brightest time of the day -- is by far the easiest solution to break the pattern of sluggishness. Did you know that no amount of indoor lighting can compete with the sun for boosting our energy levels? Even dull winter sun filtered through a thick layer of clouds is significantly more powerful than artificial lighting.
The solution: Make yourself accountable. Find a buddy and make a date to get outside. Nothing beats mutual support to remain motivated.
By VALERIE ORSONI