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Why women gain unwanted weight in fall and how to prevent it

For all of the complaining some of us do when it’s time to shop for bathing suits, you have to admit: Warmer weather can have a positive effect on our eating habits and desire to hit the gym.

Credit fresh fruit and veggies, which seem to taste even more delicious when you eat them beneath an umbrella overlooking the ocean. Or give some props to the fact that more people are showing more skin in the summertime, which inspires us to put in a few extra minutes on the treadmill.

For better or worse, autumn has the opposite effect. After working so hard all summer long, we can finally pull on a turtleneck, leggings and boots and dig into a bowl of pasta without judgment. A little pumpkin or caramel-flavored treat here and there is one thing — but a lot of women complain that cooler temps often result in undesired weight gain and that they have no clue what to do about it.

Sure, there are some obvious reasons for this.

“Possible causes for winter weight gain (in women) include cooler weather, which means no more bikinis, tank tops, and shorts, but instead snuggling up in sweatpants, sweaters, and blankets,” says Dr. Jill Merkel, M.S., R.D., L.S., the performance dietitian at EXOS in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “Colder weather may lead women to exercise less, especially if they typically exercise outside. And fall/winter is a time for comfort foods, such as sweet potato or pumpkin pie, casseroles, chilis, soups, etc.”

But there may even be another cold-weather culprit you’re not aware of: an actual disorder that affects your healthy living choices in fall and winter.

“There is a degree of seasonal affective disorder that accompanies the winter season, also due to low vitamin D levels,” says Beth Warren, M.S., R.D., C.D.N. “As a result, women are more depressed and less motivated to go outside, be active and eat healthy food choices.”

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Subway’s corporate dietician Lanette Kovachi, M.S., R.D., offers five more tips you can follow to help prevent weight loss this autumn and winter, so that you feel and look your best all year round.

1. Limit yourself to one comfort food per week. “Sweater weather brings increased incidence of warm, rich comfort foods that can add some unwanted ‘insulation’ as cooler temps set in. There are endless seasonal food choices to choose from, so to avoid overeating make just one concession to your pumpkin-related or comfort food craving per week and treat it as a reward. Limit the deep-fried, calorie-laden fare and instead opt for items that have been baked, grilled or sautéed. Also, when it comes to that tempting dessert, you don’t have to deprive yourself of a sweet treat, but try to stick to a smaller sensible portion. Split something with a friend, or even better, have some delicious, refreshing fresh-from-the-harvest fall fruit.”

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2. Don’t hit the snooze button and don’t skip breakfast. “As the days get shorter and those dark cooler mornings invite us to sleep in and skip breakfast, that a.m. nutrition kick-off continues to play an important role in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. Whatever you eat for breakfast make sure you include something protein-rich, like eggs, egg whites, yogurt, low-fat milk, or nut butter. Pair with fiber-rich whole grain options, such as whole wheat bread, oatmeal, or Shredded Wheat. The protein and fiber will ward off the mid-morning hunger pangs and prevent overeating at lunch.”

3. Make water your best friend. “Make a refillable water bottle a permanent accessory. Whether running errands, shopping or catching up with your squad for a meal, keep water on hand for your primary beverage. Keeping hydrated is important to keep energy up, reduce hunger, and helps you avoid filling up on those warm, sugary seasonal drinks that can add on a lot of unnecessary, empty calories.”

4. Use cute new leggings as an excuse to stay active. “Your exercise routine shouldn’t drop off with the temperatures. Eating well is just one part of the equation to maintaining a healthy weight year round. It is just as important to keep up or even increase activity levels as the days get shorter and weather gets cooler. Make it a priority to fit exercise into your regular schedule — whether it is a regular fitness class, recreational fall sports team (a great way to meet people) or just pairing up with a neighbor for regular walks and show off those cute new leggings!”

5. Don’t underestimate the power of snacks. “Stock up on nutritious snacks like fruit, whole grain crackers, mixed nuts, reduced-fat cheese sticks. They can help you stave off impulse food purchases that you’ll regret later. If you’re out and about and don’t have a snack on you, look for an option that packs in whole grains, lean protein and/or veggies or fruit. Perfect examples are yogurt parfaits with fresh fruit and granola or a turkey sandwich loaded with veggies on whole grain bread.”

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