As much as we’d all love to write winter weight gain off as one of those annoying health myths (an apple a day, the two-second food rule, et cetera) it’s unfortunately 100 percent real, as a large international study recently proved. You’re likelier to gain the most weight of the year during the holiday season, and it can take up to five months to lose. Say it with me: Ughhh.
So, because I’m really not very good at giving up the things that help me deal with my Seasonal Affective Disorder—namely, pasta, risotto, wine, cheese; you get the idea—I decided to ask people who specialize in eating healthy how they do it during winter. I wanted to get the best advice there was. Below, get seven of their secrets for staving off those cold-weather pounds—and, unlike their clients, you don’t even have to pay a cent.
Pick Healthy Comfort Foods
You don’t have to give up comfort foods entirely. (Phew.) But you do need to choose wisely if you don’t want your waistline to grow. Monica Amsterdam, Director of Nutrition at the Medical and Wellness Center of New Jersey, suggests opting for roasted vegetables like carrots, onions, beets, winter squashes, sweet potatoes, yams, turnips, parsnips and rutabaga. “These are naturally sweet and very satisfying, nourish our organs, and invigorate our mind,” she says. That I can get behind.
Spice it Up
In place of carb-y, cheesy dishes (sigh, my fave), focus on adding as much flavor to your food as possible, and it’ll be a little easier to forgo those less healthy ingredients. “Add cinnamon, nutmeg, and apple pie spices to oatmeal, cereal, yogurt, and you can even add some into a cup of warm almond milk for a sweet evening beverage,” says Amie Valpone, HHC, AADP, a Manhattan-based nutritionist and author of Eating Clean: The 21-Day Plan to Detox, Fight Inflammation, and Reset Your Body. “Also go for fresh rosemary. This herb will do wonders for your taste buds and you won’t need the chemical-laden marinades. Just use fresh lemon juice, olive oil and rosemary when roasting veggies or organic animal products.”
Calm Your Body with Warming Meals
It’s not in your head—winter really is hard on you, physically and emotionally. “Cold is a source of stress for the body,” says Amsterdam. “To keep your temperature stable and maintain homeostasis, you need more energy. Swap unhealthy dishes for healthy soups and stews made with tons of leafy green vegetables, garlic and onions. Also incorporate legumes, hot peppers, ginger, and herbal tea—these foods will help heat up the body, and keep you satisfied.”
Make Smart Cooking Swaps
When you’re baking or cooking up stir-fries, eggs, casseroles, and stuffing, one easy way to eat slimmer is by avoiding unnecessary high-fat foods and white flour. “Toss the butter and use coconut butter or oil in your recipes for delicious flavor without the inflammatory ingredients,” says Valpone. “Use almond flour to make breads and crackers that are filling and hearty without the fillers that can lead to weight gain. Try my almond cracker recipe and serve them with a spread of coconut or cashew butter with a pinch of sea salt.” Yum.
Eat Before Going Out
The season of celebration also happens to be the season of stuffing our faces. Luckily, Amsterdam has hacks to help you with self-control. “At parties, opt to use a smaller plate if you can, or just put snacks into a napkin rather than getting lots of refills,” she says. “Always eat before you go to a party or a gathering. About 30 minutes to an hour before heading out, drink a healthy smoothie that’s packed with protein and a healthy fat like a tablespoon of nut or seed butter. Alternatively, have an apple with ½ a tablespoon of nut or seed butter—just don’t arrive famished or you’ll regret it.”
Make Savvy Party Choices
Sometimes you’ll end up at a party where you may not have time to fill up on healthy alternatives beforehand (at a happy hour right after work, for instance). At those times, make the best of your options, rather than trying not to eat at all, which might just lead to a binge an hour later when you find your blood sugar crashing. “Instead of having several boozy cocktails, have one glass of wine and then sip on seltzer with cranberry juice,” says Valpone. “Keep raw nuts and seeds in your desk, car, or purse so that you can munch on a handful of raw walnuts or almonds—avoid the roasted, salty versions—during food emergencies. The healthy fat in nuts will curb your cravings so you’re not dying to jump into the bread basket or attack the appetizers.”
Choose the Right Grains
Best news ever: You don’t have to forsake grains entirely to be healthy this winter. Just choose the right ones, says Valpone. “Cook up a batch of your favorite gluten-free grains on Sunday night,” she says. “Smart options include quinoa, millet, amaranth, teff, wild rice, and sorghum. If you keep a batch ready and on hand, you can use them throughout the week in tacos, fajitas, rice pudding, pilafs, and more.” Yes, she said tacos!
A version of this article was originally published in January 2017.