How to Maintain a Healthy Weight in the New Year

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At this time of year, it's hard to keep the pounds off! After the overindulgence of the holidays, going back to controlled portions and eating foods that "do a body good" can be challenging.

And did you know that there may be an evolutionary component to the urge to overeat during winter? A new study from the University of Exeter suggests that just as many animals overeat in preparation for winter when food is scarce, humans may also have evolved to overeat to compensate for the lack of food during the harsh winter months. When humans first appeared on Earth, being underweight posed a much greater risk than being overweight and it was much harder to find food during wintertime. We have not yet evolved to overcome that biological hard wiring, even though, for the vast majority of the planet's humans, winter no longer poses any real threat to the ability to gather food. To make matters worse, much of today's food supply focuses on treats and snacks with lots of sugar and fat to enhance flavor. This makes the urge to consume these foods stronger than our evolutionary mechanism that tells us we've had enough and to stop eating.

So, what can we do to help ensure we maintain a healthy weight during the winter months? Here are a few great tips.

Don't stop exercising. Stay as active as weather allows. Staying active burns calories, which helps shed those unwanted pounds. Another benefit is that you'll build muscle, and muscle tissue burns more calories—even when you're at rest—than does fat. If your healthcare provider gives you the okay, try out winter sports such as snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. Head to your local senior center to take a yoga or tai chi class. Call up a friend and go bowling. By staying active, you'll not only feel better in the short term, but you'll also be laying the groundwork for many long-term benefits.

Become conscious of how much you really need to eat. It's tempting to load up our plates with every imaginable culinary delight, particularly at parties or even when dining out, especially if we're hungry. So the first step in maintaining proper portion control is to simply recognize that your body doesn't need everything you crave. Try this experiment: Take (or order) half of what you normally would (if eating out, share an entrée instead of having one for yourself). Eat more slowly. Try to make the meal last at least 20 minutes. After that, if you're still hungry, consider ordering a side dish or some dessert. If you practice this enough, it's likely you'll soon discover that you feel full after eating less food. And that's a good first step in losing weight.

Don't cut out fats entirely. Fats have a bad reputation for packing on the pounds. But science is beginning to take issue with this notion. First of all, many low-fat or nonfat foods are loaded with sugar (and therefore, calories), which can be more harmful to health than fats. Second, not all fats are created equal. Many foods high in fat—avocados, olive oil, wild salmon, walnuts—have numerous benefits and can actually improve our health. As with all things, it is best to eat all fats in moderation as part of a balanced diet. And there are fats you should always avoid—trans fats being the main culprit. In fact, the FDA recently ordered all food manufacturers to stop using trans fats within three years because of the potential danger they present.

Make healthier choices. Instead of having a glass of orange juice in the morning (which isn't a bad food choice, but is loaded with calories), substitute a glass of water. If that seems unthinkable, try a "half and half"—half orange juice, half water. That way, you'll get most of the taste with half the calories. Instead of potato chips, have a bowl of air-popped popcorn or, better yet, an apple. Instead of ice cream, try some fruit sorbet. Instead of a prepackaged, microwavable entrée (which is no doubt loaded with unnecessary salt, sugar and trans fats), fix something from fresh, whole ingredients.

Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best things you can do to improve your overall health and well-being. Conscious eating can be challenging during the winter months, but with a little planning, determination and encouragement, you should be able to meet your goals.

Source: IlluminAge Communication Partners; copyright 2017 IlluminAge