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Winter weight gain trap – Don’t fall for it – Outsmart it!

Winter weight gain trap – Don’t fall for it – Outsmart it!

Winter has the ability to mess with our heads! Statistics by John Hopkins University reveal that people tend to gain on average 2.6 – 3 kg of weight during the winter months. That is 5-6 tubs x 500g each margarine for one season. The sad part is that when spring arrives most people would like to lose it within 2 weeks. The other sad statistic is that most people don’t lose it and it just adds up year by year.

Winter has an awesome side. Thick warm sweaters, cosy blankets, fireplaces, wine, hot chocolate, stews and soups. The drawback is – weight gain! When the first blooms appear - the ugly realization – you have to lose the weight.

Here is why we usually gain more weight in winter – and what you can do about it.

Colder temperatures are often blamed that we feel hungrier and allow us to eat bigger and more portions and drink a couple of glasses of wine more. Mammal’s activities during winter time change and so does their energy demands. Mammals often hibernate, migrate and reproduce during the colder times of the year. However, during these cycles body weight stays normal. Mammals need extra food during colder seasons in order to survive.

The absence of these seasonal behaviours in humans, along with modern conveniences such as pre-prepared foods, artificial lighting and climate control; means the influence of cold weather on our eating behaviours needs to be adjusted.

Various studies confirm that there is an increase in waist circumference which means more fat are stored around the mid - section. This is a problem as a bigger waist increase risk for inflammation e.g. arthritis, gout, diabetes, heart disease and even effect brain function.

We commonly think that we feel hungrier when it is colder and that we need to eat more. The result is that we are longing for more carbohydrates (refined), higher fats foods and sugars to supply instant energy and heat.

We “fall” for the cravings with the result of a blood sugar spikes and drops. And the vicious circle starts of over eating, unstable blood sugar, constant cravings, tiredness and weight gain.

Any food can supply energy but we do not think in terms of vegetables, fruit and salads as winter food. The picture in our minds is of heavy rich meals like chips and creamy desserts and soups not plain vegetables soups.

More time spent indoors means less physical activity - a common excuse for the winter padding.

The evidence is few whether temperatures cause weight gain. It is rather the food myths that are adding to the expanding waistline.

What is the solution?

Comfort food is a bit of an inaccurate term. We indulge in hot dogs, pastries, hot chocolate drinks and cappuccinos to sooth ourselves, but they have the opposite effect once they pass our lips – and it is not only the clothes that will feel tighter.

Researchers found a link between fast and packaged foods to cause not only inflammation but interfere with mood- regulating chemicals in the brain and may even lead to symptoms of depression.

The Belief: Do Carbo – loading

There is a reason why comfort foods are high in refined carbohydrates. The brain’s main feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin is fuelled by carbohydrates. Serotonin activates receptors that control mood and appetite.

Daylight also plays a direct role in serotonin production. During the shorter winter days less daylight effects serotonin production says Judith Wurtman, PhD, co-author of the serotonin power diet. Therefore we want to eat more to keep our spirits up. Remember not all carbs are created equal!

The Solution:

Opt for complex unprocessed carbohydrates like whole grain seed bread rather than white rolls, whole grain cereals like oats, sweet potato rather than potato and brown rice rather than white rice. Because of the high fibre and B vitamin content in unprocessed whole grains the sugar is released at a much slower rate and controls appetite and hunger more effectively.

The Belief:

Small portions are low in energy (kilojoules). People’s believe is that e.g. a chicken pie of 140g (2000kJ) will have fewer kilojoules than a plate of cooked foods with chicken curry, brown rice and vegetables. (1100 kJ). The latter is a lot more filling and will keep your energy level sustained.

The fact is that the plate of food will have at least halve the kilojoules of the pie.

The Solution:

Cut the kilojoules with ingredients that will add fibre, nutrients and volume but are low in kilojoules. Fill up on an extra portion or two of vegetables of e.g. spinach, green beans, gems squash, mushrooms.

The Belief: Reaching for the bad fats

Evolution may still be playing a role in the fact that we crave fatty foods in winter. Our pre ancestors had to protect their organs from the cold and also had to boost their immune systems. Modern day man does not need that extra layer of fat as we have are not exposed to such severe temperatures.

The Solution:

Make friends with the right fats.  Avocado pears, oily fish, nuts and seeds contain healthy fats that are known to support brain cell function and positive mood. Fish especially sardines, pilchards and salmon are amongst the best sources of omega 3’s.

Also include a little lean protein with each meal. Protein stabilizes blood sugar levels and keeps you satisfied and will keep cravings for cakes, chips and biscuits at bay. Your body works harder to burn protein than to burn fats and carbohydrates. A little extra protein will prevent muscle loss but enhance fat loss. Eat also a little extra protein mid-morning and afternoon e.g. 1 tablespoon low fat cottage cheese on crackers or ostrich/game biltong.

The Belief: Liquids do not count

Most people will change the way they eat and cut the biscuits and sweets, even carbohydrates, but they do not keep a check on what they are drinking.

It is not only the calories in a latte that counts, but even the diet drinks will affect our bodies as we fill them with food devoid of any nutrients and consisting of additives, preservative and colourings. Remember that 100% fruit juice blends/smoothies are concentrated forms of sugar lacking fibre.

The solution:

Stick to black tea or coffee. The best option is herbal teas like camomile and rooibos without milk. One sachet of cappuccino is the equivalent of a slice of bread – that is if you do not add extra sugar or milk. Coffee has the horrible habit of making your mood and blood sugar dip between fixes. Contrary to popular belief, coffee does not speed up metabolism.

The Belief: Stews and bredies are fattening

Most traditional recipes use large quantities of  oil and butter to fry onions and use very fatty meat like shanks as part of the bredie/stew.

The solution:

Dry fry the onions/ leeks/ shallots in a little bit of water and use leaner cuts or even chicken. A great economic alternative is to use split peas, lentils, barley and beans. Add a huge quantity of vegetables and thicken the soup by adding pumpkin or butternut and by liquidising part of the soup. A little low fat yogurt may also be added.

The Belief: I am hungrier during the day if I eat breakfast

The popular belief is that skipping breakfast will result in less food eaten during the day. Research found persons that skip breakfast actually eat 6.8% more food during the day and cravings will be more prevalent. 

The Solution:

Eat breakfast within 1/2 hour of waking up. If a breakfast is not your scene try to make a smoothie with whey powder, plain low fat yogurts fruit and peanut butter and raw oats. Eat 3 meals per day including all the food groups with a small snack in between.

Tips to prevent weight gain:

1. Include more herbs and spices in your food.

Herbs/ spices that increase heat and has got medicinal value: Cloves, cinnamon, ginger, chillies, cardamom, cumin, mustard and curry. These herbs also increase your metabolism. Just think of how you sweat when you eat chillies. Cinnamon assists in insulin resistance, ginger for blood circulation and immunity, cloves for digestion.

2. Beware of rich creamy winter drinks.

Make a chocolate drink with 1-2 teaspoons cacao powder or 2 blocks of dark chocolate (70% or higher), top up with water and use only about 50 ml low fat milk or milk alternative. Sprinkle with cinnamon.

Apple Cinnamon and Rooibos tea

Recipe:

Bring 250 ml milk/ soya milk/ almond milk to a boil

Add ½ grated green apple

1 whole cinnamon stick

1 rooibos tea bag

Boil for 2 minutes

Pour mixture through a sieve

Add honey/ xylitol to taste.

Enjoy

3. A glass of water may help with cravings

Although you sweat less in winter you still need liquids especially if you are in an air conditioned or heated room. Drink a good coffee (with little or no sugar and milk) tea and a good alternative for water is warm herbal teas or warm water with a lemon that is an excellent source of vitamin C and the phytochemical limonene.

Herbs/ spices that increase heat and has got medicinal value: Cloves, cinnamon, ginger, chillies, cardamom, cumin, mustard and curry. These herbs also increase your metabolism. Just think of how you sweat when you eat chillies. Cinnamon assists in insulin resistance, ginger for blood circulation and immunity, cloves for digestion.

4. Plan your meals, prepare in advance, and freeze any extra food.

Do not wait until you are starving before you start preparing food. Plan and prepare in advance. That will prevent blood sugar to drop and cause cravings and fat storage.

5. Focus on healthy foods that are filling

Rather buy fruit and bake apples with cinnamon as snacks instead of eating and buying high energy empty fatty creamy snack/foods.

6. Start a new hobby

Instead of sitting in front of the TV eating because you are bored start with a hobby like mosaic, pottery etc. Being more creative is a sure way to feel better about yourself.

7. Try a few new easy recipes

When you feel deprived and bored with the same food over and over again you tend to cheat a lot easier. Trying out a new recipe to feel less deprived and is a great way to involve the rest of the family as activity. It is a great way to improve relationships.

8. Adjust recipes of favourite foods to lower kilojoules

Prepare macaroni cheese with low fat cheese and pizza with wholewheat pastry with vegetables instead of salami and lots of cheese.

Substitutes in recipes

Full cream milk > Low Fat or 2% fat milk

Cream > Low fat natural yogurt or “flop” sour cream, or Low-fat natural yogurt (Bulgarian and Greek)

Cheddar/Gouda/Tussers > Ricotta/Mozarella/Edam/Emmental/Parmesan/Pecorino

100% mincemeat (lean) > Replace 50% topside mincemeat with 50% legume e.g. butterbeans, lentils

Cream cheese > Low fat or fat free cottage cheese

9. Enjoy the longer nights

An American study that was done over a period of sixteen years concluded that less than five hours sleep per night increase the risk for weight gain with 30 %. Enough sleep is important to balance hormones that play a role in appetite and metabolism. Too little sleep reduces exercise activities and increase snacking and drinking of caffeine rich beverages. Caffeinated beverages are often used with lots of milk which increase total kilojoule intake.

10. Get an alternative for the gym

Use a mall to do a cardio workout by doing power walking. Put on your walking shoes and go earlier in the morning while doing window shopping.