How to be a winter wellness warrior

Boost your energy and banish excuses in the colder months with these top tips!

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By Amy Mitchell,
Director of Goddess Outdoor Fitness www.goddessoutdoorfitness.com.au

WHEN the temperature drops, do you notice that you start to crave rich, warming comfort foods? 

It’s almost as though a flick is switched when winter hits and all of a sudden your energy plummets and your appetite goes into overdrive.

It’s not just your imagination: when you feel cold, your body goes into self-preservation mode and sends out a message to heat up fast. Which is why you tend to reach for carbohydrate-rich foods to provide that instant “heat” or hit of energy that you’re craving.

Then, when you give in to those cravings, you get a spike in blood sugar which quickly makes you hungry again – and so the vicious cycle begins!

At the same time, the colder weather means the call of the couch is stronger and you probably feel like spending more time indoors, rugged up in front of the TV or with a good book, rather than outside exercising, right?

Because exercise increases your serotonin levels (a “feel-good” hormone that helps control appetite), if you’re exercising less, your serotonin levels drop and your appetite subsequently increases.

And so, your appetite is increasing while simultaneously you’re moving less… no wonder many people feel sluggish and often gain a kilo or three during winter!

But just because mother nature seems determined to provide you with an extra layer of padding during the colder months, that doesn’t mean you have to throw down your salad in despair and give in to seasonal weight gain.

Here are my top 5 tips for staying energised, healthy and in shape during the winter months:

  1. Snack between meals.

Eating a high-protein, high-fibre snack between meals – such as wholegrain crackers and cheese; celery or apple with nut butter; vege sticks and hummus or Greek yoghurt and fruit will help fuel your body’s engine and keep you warmer. Protein and fibre help keep you satisfied too so you’re less like to crave the simple carbs that spike your blood sugar.

 

  1. Be carb-smart.

Satisfy your cravings for starchy carbs with low-GI and wholegrain varieties of carbs that break down slowly for sustained energy (and help avoid the blood sugar spike!). Think sweet potato (mashed or baked); brown or basmati rice with stews and curries; jacket potatoes with a protein-rich filling such as Bolognese/ dhal or pulled pork; or add legumes such as red lentils or chickpeas to stews or soups to help bulk them out and fill you up.

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  1. Rug up and keep training.

Of course exercise burns calories, but because it affects brain chemicals associated with appetite, it also has the added bonus of helping to control how much you eat. So if you can keep up a regular training routine throughout winter, that will make a big difference to whether or not you gain weight AND it will help boost your mood and energy levels too.

If you find it hard to get out of bed when it’s cold and dark, lay out your (warm) clothes the night before; if you have a heater/ aircon with a timer, set the heat to come on half an hour before you wake up; and wear extra layers to training – beanies, gloves, thick jackets – you can always take layers off as you warm up but it’s much nicer to be warm when you first get out in the cold air!

  1. Health-ify your comfort foods.

If you can’t resist those wintry comfort foods, find lower-calorie ways of making them. There are tonnes of ideas on recipe sites such as Pinterest, or just Google “healthy comfort food” and you’ll get thousands of recipes. Simple swaps such as using pasta made from legumes (black beans/ chickpeas/ edamame) or konjac noodles instead of regular pasta; yoghurt instead of cream in soups/ curries; or pumpkin instead of potato can make a big difference while still satisfying your comfort food cravings. A slow cooked is also a great way to make healthy comfort food dishes (with leftovers for days!)

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  1. Get some sunlight!

Sunlight has been referred to as “the natural appetite suppressant”. A lack of sunlight can decrease your brain’s serotonin levels. In serious cases, this can lead to depression or SAD (seasonal affective disorder) – but it can also affect your appetite. When your serotonin levels are low you don’t experience the same level of fullness after meals, which can cause you to eat more. So getting out in the sunshine has multiple benefits: decreasing your appetite, giving you a dose of vitamin D and getting your body moving!

 

Amy Mitchell is the owner and head trainer of Goddess Outdoor Fitness, in Rozelle. For lots more advice and tips on women’s health and fitness, plus healthy recipe ideas, join our free Facebook group: facebook.com/groups/goddesshealthfitness
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