It’s all too easy in winter, when it’s freezing cold and you’re craving comfort food, to carb-load for Australia. What’s more, it’s snuggle weather, cold and flu season, and you’re wearing a mountain of layers – eating light meals and stripping off and heading to the gym can seem like insurmountable tasks.
But is putting on winter weight in manner of a woolly mammoth inevitable, or can it actually be prevented? Highly regarded, qualified and practicing nutritionist and passionate foodie, Jessica Cox, 38, (pictured) says it’s the latter; winter doesn’t have to spell doom and gloom for our waistlines and/or our digestive health.
Jessica, who’s armed with a Bachelor of Health Science (Nutrition) and more than eight years of clinical experience, is also the founder and business owner of Brisbane’s Jessica Cox Nutritionist Clinic (JCNC). She treats all health conditions, but specialises in ongoing digestive issues and food intolerances.
Here, the nutritionist says instead of hibernating on the couch with a bowl of pasta bigger than your head, with a bit of nutritional planning, you can boost your energy and stay svelte in the colder months.
“As a nutritionist, it’s a big part of my job at this time of the year to ensure my clients are provided with the best nutritional tools to breeze through winter and bounce straight into spring,” Jessica says. “This primarily involves keeping daily food intake ‘on point’ regarding macronutrient balance, while ensuring that more heavier comfort foods do not become overly dominant on a day-to-day basis.”
So, fellow carb-lovers, I’m sorry to break it to you, but we’ve got work to do in cleaning up our diets this winter. For Jessica says learning to balance the meals we naturally crave in winter, such as stews, braises, mashes, pasta, rice, breads and polenta, is key to maintaining our weight.
“I don’t think you need to watch your calories more, from summer through to winter, it should relatively be the same if your exercising habits remain unchanged – it’s more about watching how you put together your meals,” she says. “So when it gets cooler, we start to crave those carb-dominant comfort foods. It’s not that carbs are bad, it’s just that our portions start to get a bit skewed in the cooler months.”
Jessica’s other top tip is to eat a nutrionally balanced diet during the day to help us fight those sweet cravings during the afternoon slump. “Go for a snack that’s going to have some sweetness, but combine it with protein, so a good option would be a handful of nuts, but add dried apricots to that too. Alternatively, have a square of 70-80 per cent cacao dark chocolate, but have it with a handful of nuts so it’s more filling and there’s more protein to keep you feeling fuller for longer. Sugar on its own gives you that little boost but drops you down again.”
And ladies, watch your comfort and/or emotional eating behaviours – which often go hand-in-hand – in winter, Jessica says. “In the cooler weather we want that more fuller filling to create warmth in the body – you can get addicted to that – again, it’s about teaching people that the more balanced intake you have during the day, you don’t get those cravings for such large, heavy meals as you won’t be as ravenous.”
A sweet-tooth tip I personally love, is Jessica’s advice to forsake a block of milk chocolate for a yummy, but healthier alternative such as a piece of 80 per cent cacao dark chocolate in a cup, melted with some boiling water, topped with frothy milk. Yum!
And the nutritionist says alcohol is another top healthy diet-killer; she advises alcohol-free days from Monday-Thursday, then ideally only one-to-two drinks on the remaining days. “If someone wants to lose weight, wine consumption most nights can be a real issue; your body will use alcohol as a preferential fuel to burn and it’s more inclined to store your meal as excess.”
Jessica’s top 10 tips on how to avoid winter weight gain:
- Start your day right: Ensure your breakfast and lunches contain a combination of your macronutrients, this being carbohydrates, protein and fats. This will provide you with long lasting satiety and reduce cravings for sugar between meals. An example of this would be a brown rice, veggie, chicken and cashew stir fry, or a toasted rye wrap with avocado, spinach, grated beetroot and smoked salmon.
- Don’t skip breakfast: Eating breakfast really does amp up your metabolism for the day. When it’s chilly it can be tempting to spend a few more minutes (or ten) under the blankets, causing you to be late and run out the door without breakfast. A good rule of thumb is to eat your breakfast within half an hour of waking.
- Snack regularly: Include a morning and afternoon snack with protein to keep your metabolism charging along and to avoid energy slumps (leading to chocolate cravings in the afternoon). A good tip is to include some sweetness with your protein snack, like a handful of pistachios with some raisons or a few dried apricots.
- Watch the carbs: Keep your complex carbohydrate (or grain) portion of your main meals to just roughly one-third of your meal. For example, if you have the above stir-fry, ensure only one-third of the meal is brown rice.
- Smash the veggies: Aim to make half of your meal vegetables. These vegetables could be roasted, stir-fried, braised and stewed.
- Watch your portions: When it’s cold, we often want to eat more for that ‘full’ feeling. Overeating is one of the most common bad habits we have which leads to weight gain, especially through winter. Eat till you are comfortable, not bursting full.
- Don’t overeat: Wait 20 minutes before going back for seconds. Nine times out of 10, you will not want it and that craving will have passed.
- Turn up the heat: Include warming and metabolism-boosting ingredients in your meals such as chilli, cayenne pepper and ginger, along with drinking green tea.
- Get fresh, baby: Keep some fresh, lively food in your diet with all those cooked vegetables. Add a handful of baby spinach or rocket to a braise as you serve, or a generous handful of herbs. This will keep your digestive tract filled with a variety of fibre sources, and in turn keep your transit time (stool movements) on track. A healthy digestive tract always results in a healthier metabolism!
- Get expert help: Unsure about what’s right for your body and your needs, especially with exercise involved? See a nutritionist: an expert can help you gain critical education to enable you to achieve your personal health and weight-loss goals.
Images via Womens Health, Get Your Fit Together, Paleo Recipes