Shorter days, bigger plates

Why healthy eating can be a challenge as winter approaches

We all know the feeling – the realization that most of our non-working hours will now be spent in the dark. This cold, dark weather can make us turn to food for comfort while health can be put on the back burner. Exercising outside becomes less appealing; this can lead to inactivity and mindless snacking. Breakfast has its hurdles as well – many of us prefer extra time in a warm bed over an elaborate breakfast in a cold kitchen. With these as just a few of the barriers to a healthy lifestyle in the fall months, it’s easy to see why this time of year can affect your health.

Below are some tips for staying on track as the days get colder and shorter: 

Breakfast Prep: 

Have breakfast planned and displayed the counter in the evenings to save yourself time and effort in the mornings. Knowing what is waiting for you in the kitchen can be a great incentive to get out of bed. If you’re a coffee drinker, set your coffee maker on automatic if possible. The smell of brewing java can be used to lure you downstairs on those cold, dark mornings before the heat has been turned on. It doesn’t take much energy to prepare breakfast foods in the evenings, yet it can make a huge impact on your morning meal with a positive effect on the rest of your day.

Pass the Veggies:

Celebrate cooked vegetables; vegetables may be more palatable at this time of the year if they are warm when served. Steaming is a great way to prepare fresh or frozen veggies. Roasting is also a good option; the smell that warms up the room will be inviting and appetizing. If you prefer to stir-fry your vegetables, try to use the least amount of fat possible - just enough to prevent the pan from sticking. Use this time of the year to experiment with new vegetables, or to learn how to cook old childhood favourites. You can also learn to appreciate new favourites – those Brussel sprouts that you spit out as a child may taste delicious to your adult palate! 

Avoid Mindless Snacking: 

Many people spend fall and winter evenings relaxing around the house. If you find yourself rooting through the cupboards and fridge at each commercial break, you either didn’t enough at supper or are eating out of habit rather than hunger. For many it’s a combination of both. Make sure you are eating enough at your main meals. While you don’t want to go overboard with a mile-high plate, try to balance your meal with a variety of foods. This will help you get a variety of nutrients and with a good dose of protein and fibre you’ll feel full for hours to come. One of the keys to preventing mindless snacking is to keep your hands busy. Try interesting new herbal teas with potent flavours to keep your hands occupied and to stay hydrated. For those who are sensitive to caffeine there are endless caffeine-free varieties. Also, have a glass of water handy at all times. This keeps you hydrated and can curb cravings.  If you feel you need a more extreme intervention to keep separated from unhealthy snacks after supper, try this trick: brush your teeth after supper. This will help you think twice about grazing (“is it worth brushing my teeth again?”) It may also boost your water intake since it’s the only thing that won’t require you to re-brush. Most importantly, remember that keeping your cupboards free from your most tempting treats is one of the best ways to avoid mindless snacking. Out of sight, out of mind. 

Note: Some people do require a healthy snack before bedtime; a dietitian can help you determine what is best for you as an individual. 

Use Down-Time Wisely: 

Think of this season as a time for change – a positive one. Experiment with shopping and cooking; it’s one of the best hobbies that you can do inside the home without braving the dark, cold and windy air. Think of cooking as not just a necessity; treat it as a hobby!  Rather than using your down time to watch TV, consider spending more time on a well-prepared meal. Make cooking more enjoyable depending on your preferences – this could include chatting with a friend on speaker phone or Skype, playing music, listening to a radio show, or turning the lights low and burning candles as you cook. Rather than seeing it as a stressful event, try to re-train your brain to think of it as a time for unwinding from a busy day. 

Know Yourself

Recognizing the barriers for you at this time of year is important. Knowing yourself well is the key to determining effective coping strategies. You can use the season’s changes to your advantage as long as you plan ahead and think positively!