With cold weather in full force, many of us are already rejecting our New Year’s resolutions to eat lighter, improve our body composition, and achieve a healthy weight. About this time of year, many of us are wondering: why is it so hard to maintain our resolve and stick to our goals?
It isn’t just a matter of willpower or inner strength. In fact, it might have much more to do with how our bodies react to winter’s cold. During the winter months, our cravings for warm, nurturing, and nourishing foods tend to increase—in particular, we desire starchy and grain-based foods. There is a physiological basis behind this. Firstly, our bodies are biologically compelled to increase our serotonin production in the absence of adequate sun exposure. Our bodies begin to crave carbohydrate-rich foods, which increase insulin and allow the amino acid tryptophan to pass through the blood-brain barrier. This puts us in a “happy and purposeful” mood. Secondly, carbohydrate-dense foods—unlike salads and other light fare—increase our sense of satiety and “fullness,” which tends to make us feel more grounded and less vulnerable. Lastly, carbohydrate-dense foods warm our bodies when we feel cold and exposed.
Rather than abandon your goals for a healthy diet, optimal weight, and ideal body composition, here are some simple strategies you can use to outsmart winter—as well as your own body.
Exercise with Music and Movement
All types of exercise are beneficial at any time of year, but in the winter, exercise classes that involve music and movement are especially helpful, as they boost endorphin levels, enhancing mood and motivation. Look into Zumba, Jazzercise, or Nia classes in your neighborhood, or branch out with something spicier, like salsa or Bollywood.
Get Your Vitamin D
To produce serotonin, the body requires vitamin D. Unfortunately, we cannot get an adequate daily dose of this essential vitamin through diet alone—it is only produced by the body when our skin is exposed to the sun, which can be difficult or impossible to do in the winter. Give your body a little extra help in the winter—and improve your mood—by using a sun lamp for 20–30 minutes each day, or by taking a vitamin D supplement. And on sunny days, don’t forget to take a quick walk at high noon. This boost in mood will make you less likely to crave carbs and starches come dinnertime.
Thermogenesis is a metabolic process that helps the body maintain a desirable temperature, which in turn keeps our metabolism functioning optimally. Certain foods—hot red peppers, black pepper, ginger, green tea, coconut oil, and proteins—boost our body temperature as well as our metabolism, which in turn helps us to maintain a healthy weight. Choose recipes that include these ingredients—and start sipping green tea regularly—to take advantage of this beneficial process.
Lighten the Load
There’s no need to completely avoid starchy and grain-based foods. Instead, simply incorporate them in small amounts in a balanced diet. This can be easily achieved by using our “Lighten the Load” strategy. Here are some simple recipes to add to your winter menu to ensure the comfort without packing on the pounds.
Zucchini Pancakes (Serves 4)
- 2 large zucchini, grated
- 4 extra-large eggs, beaten
- 1 small red onion, chopped
- 2 cloves peeled garlic, chopped
- ¼ cup coconut flour
- ¼ cup fresh dill, chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl along with only 1 tablespoon of the olive oil.
Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Using half the batter, form about 8 pancakes. Fry pancakes lightly on both sides until brown, adding more oil if needed to pan. Repeat with the remaining batter.
Serve with a dollop of tzatziki sauce as a side dish accompanied by grilled lamb chops, a Greek salad, and some steamed broccoli seasoned with garlic olive oil.
These pancakes can also be used at breakfast to accompany an egg-white omelet made with smoked salmon and red onions.
Butternut Squash Soufflé
- 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
- 4 large eggs
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 F. Place the butternut squash chunks on a baking sheet and bake for 20–30 minutes, or until soft.
Place the cooked butternut squash in a food processor. Add the eggs, garlic, oil, salt, and pepper and process till smooth. Divide the mix between 4 oiled ramekins, and bake for 30–40 minutes.
Serve hot with herb-crusted grilled chicken breast, sautéed kale, and steamed green beans.
Celeriac Root and Cauliflower Puree
- 1 medium celeriac root, peeled and cut into chunks
- 1 large head of cauliflower, cut into small florets
- ¼ cup salted butter (like Kerrygold)
Steam cauliflower and celeriac root chunks until very soft, and then place in a food processor. Add butter and a little salt to taste. Process until pureed.
Serve with a turkey meatloaf, chard sautéed with shallots and garlic, and steamed green beans.
Our nutrition expert, Peta Cohen, M.S., R.D., has been a clinical nutritionist and metabolic specialist since 1996. Peta specializes in examining the root causes of complex and chronic health issues, and helping clients prevent the diseases caused by lifestyle choices, environmental influences, epigenetics, and aging. With her extensive clinical and research experience, she's been invited to share her knowledge at seminars and conferences worldwide. In Peta's articles for the BoomSpot, the blog of the online store theBoomShop.com, she gives practical tips on how adults 50+ can improve their health right now. Learn more about Peta at PetaCohen.com.