Yup. It’s here already. That time of year when the days get shorter and cooler. It’s a time for apple picking, decorative gourds and pumpkins, ghosts, goblins and haunted houses, corn mazes, hayrides, apple cider donuts, pumpkin bread, trick-or-treating, French onion soup, and tailgating. Do you notice a pattern here?
For most of us, fall means we start eating more. And with the weather turning colder, we start exercising less.
Studies have shown that people eat up to 200 additional calories more per day in the fall. While this doesn’t seem like much, if you add up those calories over 13 weeks then you’re looking as much as 5 pounds of weight of gain (if this trend continues into spring you could be looking at an additional 10 pounds).
Why does this happen?
For one, meal size and rate of eating increase in the fall. These calories come primarily from carbohydrates (Interestingly, there’s an inverse relationship between seasonal alcohol consumption, which is highest in the summer and lowest in the fall, and weight gain. I suspect much of this has to do with fewer calories from food and increased physical activity).
Part of fall weight gain may have to with our biological programming. Our ancestors probably put on weight to prepare for the long cold winter when food was comparatively scarce and they didn’t know where the next meal was coming from.
The shorter days may play a role as well. A Swiss study found that patients with seasonal affective disorder–a mood disorder related to lack of light–consumed more sweets and starch-rich foods, buttressing the idea that there’s not just a relationship between light and depression but light and food as well. As I tell my patients, sometimes eating isn’t about food, but mood.
Smart Strategy for Fall Eating
• Get Your Moods Out of Your Foods. Whether it’s eating out of depression, boredom or anxiety, emotional eating is one of the most overwhelming and ubiquitous issues vexing dieters. It’s also an insidious issue, because if you eat whenever you get upset you”ll find in no time that you’re just running in place. Whether it’s a slice of pumpkin bread or a handful of Halloween candy, we’re using these foods to change our moods because they taste good. Most mood eaters reach for snacks that are crunchy, creamy or salty and sweet. These tastes and textures provide immediate satisfaction or relief from pent up emotions the same way that letting out a scream or pummeling a pillow would. And if you keep these foods within arm’s reach, eating to relieve emotional turmoil becomes easy and immediate.
If this your pattern, and you find the shorter days and hectic pace have you reaching for a food you have a long history of abusing, you shouldn’t worry. Mood eating is a learned behavior and anything that’s learned can be unlearned and though it’s one of the greatest challenges for dieters, it’s can easily be corrected with smart strategy. Below are my favorite strategies for ending mood eating–at any time of year.
• Write out what you will eat a day in advance. Creating a sample menu of what you’ll eating for breakfast, lunch dinner will help direct your psyche to think only of these foods and avoid all others.
• Plan which snacks you are going to eat. As you plan your meals, do the same for your snacks, being sure to include those you want to avoid.
• Plan to avoid trouble. Don’t waltz into your neighborhood bakery or pizza parlor, particularly if you know you’ll be having or anticipate a stressful day.
• Don’t bring problem foods into your home. I always tell my patients that thin starts in the supermarket. Don’t buy and bring problem foods into your home.
• Ask yourself, “Is it really a crisis?” Look at your own life. I suspect you’ll find that it’s the little annoyances and not profound crises that trigger emotional eating. Remember that most mood eating is about immediately substituting an unpleasant feeling for a pleasurable one. The key to control mood eating is to recognize that most of the stress that makes us want to eat is predictable stress and not a profound crisis. Thus, you can plan for this eventuality.
• Choose an activity to block stress eating. Take a walk, go for a bike ride, or send an email to a friend. There are any number of activities you can choose to divert your attention away from your immediate condition and away from the kitchen.
• If you can’t stop it, substitute it. A key strategy of behavioral nutrition is to think substitution, not deprivation. If you can’t completely avoid emotional eating, then consider a healthy, low-calorie substitute for your favorite stress snack.
Since planning is a key strategy to end mood eating, eating seasonal, locally grown produce is one way to help make your weight loss diet more affordable. Plus, when you make an effort to include more seasonal foods in your meal plan, you may be more likely to eat more vegetables and fruits. (After all, there is no season for Oreos.) As a general rule of thumb, choose the most vibrant produce for the optimal nutrient content and include a wide range of fresh foods in your diet. Delicious fall foods range from dark, leafy green veggies to exotic pomegranates.