It is easy to gain weight in the winter months. When it is cold out many people subconsciously eat bigger servings of a meal or snack more often. That is because calories are heat units. In wintertime we are sometimes over-eating to be sort-of “re-heating” ourselves. There is also a tendency for some people this time of year to eat more and be much less active. Some patients report “sitting under the covers to hibernate”.
Remember that the sensation of satiety, or being full, is a chemical release in the brain. The stomach is rarely “full” because it stretches. Ask Joey Chestnut, the world record holder for eating hotdogs. He ate 70 in a contest! I’m hoping they were organic! Many patients tell me that after eating just a few bites of a favorite food an “eat more” mechanism can be triggered in their brain. This pseudo-addictive food trigger can derail maintaining a healthy weight and certainly lead to weight gain, especially if you are less active in the winter. With that in mind, here are some healthier ways to keep your portions balanced and your brain more satisfied:
#1 Eat Foods Containing lots of Water to Avoid Winter Weight Gain
Veggies hold a lot of water and so they make you feel full without packing on a lot of calories. A small bowl of broth-based veggies consumed 30 minutes before a meal can do wonders for helping control meal portion sizes. When I feel hungry but it isn’t “time” to eat yet, I find that a large glass of water will keep things stable for me. Often people will mistake the thirst mechanism with hunger and eat instead of drink water. You have probably heard about setting a goal of consuming 50% of your body weight on ounces of water a day. It is a great goal to shoot for and can give a significant edge in staving off hunger.
#2 Consume More Fiber to Avoid Winter Weight Gain
Fiber is known to protect against heart disease and decrease the risk of diabetes. Secondarily, fiber takes time to digest so helps to keep you satisfied for longer times than foods with low fiber content. My favorite high fiber foods –veggies, apples, berries, pears, avocado, seeds, long grain brown rice and beans.
#3 Strategic use of Macronutrients to Avoid Winter Weight Gain
Your macronutrients are carbs, fats and proteins. What the literature fails to mention is that the feeling of fullness or satisfaction is triggered by different foods for each individual. This is partly genetic, partly physiologic and partly environmental, (what have you learned and trained your body to respond to over the years). This is also the reason for much of the confusion on “what is the best diet” and the debates between Vegan, Paleo, AIP, Keto, and the other 3700 diets on public record. Without making this a 20 page long article and reviewing all of the physiology, psychology and genetics involved; everyone has a specific food that allows them to feel more balanced. If you feel more satisfied after a higher fat meal then strategically start to use more healthy fats (olive oil, avocado oil, nuts and seeds etc..) in your meals. Sprinkle some walnuts on your salad and use a bit more oil with your dressing. If proteins balance you more then that is your answer. Have a serving and a half of chicken breast with your stir-fry. Simply shift the Macro that meets your needs up in the meals you prepare and shift the others accordingly. Keeping veggies a staple in the mix is always a good idea.
#4 Eat Slowly.
It takes around 20 minutes after eating for the glucose to release in the blood and your hormones communicate that you are satisfied. With this in mind, enjoying a relaxing meal without rushing to a second serving allows time to be satisfied without overconsumption of calories. I believe our fast-paced, immediate gratification society trains us to expect everything right now. It is very common to “feel like” you want more to eat but if you just eat a little slower satisfaction from eating smaller portions can be achieved. Be Patient People!
#5 Try Eating Smaller Portions.
Some research has shown that if people are served a large portion that they will eat a large portion. If given a small portion not everyone goes back for more. With this in mind try cutting back a bit and observe if you notice a difference in feeling satisfied. Many people actually feel better when they eat less and if you are attempting to maintain a healthy body composition there is no doubt that less food is better. Sometimes this is a triggered mechanism from our childhood. If your parents always made you “CLEAR YOUR PLATE” check that pattern with yourself regularly and take a smaller plate. You can still clear it!
#6 Be Mindful of Your Meal.
Many patients tell me that they find themselves eating on the run, while watching TV, driving or while standing around the kitchen. Stress eating is also a very common way of gobbling too much food without thinking about it. This can make it very easy to overeat calories that are not required to make you feel satisfied. Be thankful for the opportunity to choose health by eating well. Taking a moment of thanks can slow the gobble mechanism and allow you time to digest properly. A mindfulness study was performed where the participants took two minutes before eating to appreciate the preparation required for their meal. An average of 7 lbs. was lost in a year without changing the foods that they were eating. This likely allowed them time to achieve satisfaction before running back for seconds.
#7 Know your Weakness and Plan Accordingly.
There are many triggers for over-eating. Stressed, Angry, Hungry, Lonely, Bored, Tired, Pissed Off and Dehydrated Eaters! Which one or combination are you? Ha-Ha. If you are a dehydrated, stressed and tired eater and you have a friend who exhausts and stresses you out coming over to chat, drink a huge glass of water just before they arrive and have a bowl of veggies and hummus prepared. If you are a hunger triggered and boredom eater and you have a boring family gathering planned, make sure you eat before you gather and nibble at snacks during to prevent the hunger mechanism from stirring up. You get the idea; a little planning can really save you from a triggered binge eating experience that will over-ride the satisfaction mechanism. It is also very interesting to note that there is 10 times the amount of information sent from your stomach to your brain as the brain sends to the gut. So, don’t underestimate the relationship between your mood, behavior patterns and food choices. This is becoming a fascinating study and I will be writing much more on the gut brain connections in the near future.
And lastly, #8 Start Small & check your expectations.
Remember the “willingness to change model” takes time. Don’t expect to change your level of satisfaction by eating slower, hydrating more and eating less in just a few days. It takes 45 days to make a behavioral pattern change. It is likely to take longer for established eating habits. So, identify your weaknesses, make a few changes and stick to it for 45-60 days. One easy way to start small is to look at your normal serving size on the plate and eat 75% of it. Do that for one week and see if you notice a difference in how you feel. It is a simple step and easy test to see if you have been over eating.
With some slow consistent changes and moderated expectations, you will be eating less, hydrating more and feeling full faster before you know it.
Have some great tricks that help you feel full faster? Feel free to share them with us! Stay Warm!
Dr. Conan Shaw DC, CCN, IFMCP
Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist
Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner