Seasonal eating and weight gain

For many of us, myself included, fall and winter are the seasons for weight gain.  Fortunately, spring and summer are the seasons for getting back to “fighting” weight, good fitness, and healthier eating patterns.

It all seems to start around Halloween when the kids bring home bags full of sweets that are tempting antidotes to the cooler weather and the shorter days.    Soon it is time for Thanksgiving feasts and then we have the December holidays upon us, with abundant opportunities for parties, festivities and celebrations.

The French word for winter is hiver, which has the same etymological origin as hibernation.  And truly, many of us go into hibernation mode in the winter—perhaps a vestigial biological imperative to eat more to store up energy for the leaner months ahead.  This may well be on a neuro-chemical basis having to do with our chemical response to light stimulation.

One thing is indisputable—cold and dark seem to foster a foraging behavior for many of us. Unhealthier, “heavier” comfort foods, including stews, creamy soups and starches seem to be the remedy for cold weather and darkness.  During the winter months we tend to be more housebound, with ample opportunities for “boredom” eating and less distractions from eating that are possible in the warmer times of the year.  Seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D.)—an affliction that many of us endure due to the very short winter days—is characterized by variable degrees of melancholy, which can certainly beg for relief by means of comfort foods.

Obviously, there is less opportunity for outdoor exercise and outdoor activities during winter.  There is also less availability of healthier fresh fruit and vegetables that are more readily available in summer.  There is less opportunity for grilling, a healthier form of cooking than many alternatives.  Finally, many seem to care less about their appearance during winter when they are less likely to need to get into shorts or a bathing suit, so are less attentive to their more disciplined eating patterns that are typical of spring and summer.

The solution to seasonal weight gain is to be mindful of the process by which winter promotes weight gain and to attempt to be moderate when it comes to eating behavior.  Balance the potential for weight gain with augmented physical activity and by staying busy and productive.  Joining a gym, attending yoga class, playing in an indoor tennis league, taking adult education classes, etc., are all terrific ways of staying active, busy and out of the kitchen.  And if you do gain a few pounds, spring and summer provide ample opportunities for shedding them.

April 3, 2011

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