mist is hovering over Black Mountain and as I look out my back window I see in the yard behind mine that the sporadic spots of red in Jim's tree have all grown together into a large crimson patch. Fall is here. Time to pull out those big comfy sweaters, cozy slippers and spend evenings in front of the fireplace.
As the days get shorter and the nights get colder, we look for things that will bring us warmth and comfort and make winter a little more bearable. Enter comfort foods. While a hot cup of tea or coffee may be all some need, others feel the warmth by replacing summer salads and grilled veggies for dinner with sauces, gravy and desserts. Combine the change in fare with S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder), and limited outdoor activities that go hand in hand with fewer daylight hours, and many people end up putting on (more than) a few pounds through the winter months.
So how do we get the comfort we're so clearly seeking and avoid looking like a bear who's ready for hibernation when Spring rolls around? Over the past week, as this was the hot topic of conversation with about 80 percent of my clients, I know many of you out there are thinking the along the same lines. And if you're that person who finds themselves indulging and then feeling guilty, or indulging and not feeling guilty but wondering where those extra 10 to 15 pounds came from when you go to put on your shorts in the spring, you need to have a plan. Let's face it, that hot cup of tea is not everyone's, well, cup of tea.
What I have found works best with my clients is to put a plan in place that allows them to give in to those comfort cravings in a way that's beneficial to their heath and will allow them to maintain or even continue losing weight through the winter months. First, identify your go-to foods – those things that call to you when you're bored, hanging out by yourself or when the day didn't go particularly well – by asking yourself, “Do I prefer savoury or sweet?” “Would I rather eat or drink?“ and “Does it matter if it's hot or cold?”. You may have one or two specific things or you may have several options that will do it for you.
Once you know your comfort foods, the next thing to ask is, “How can I make these work for me?”. For those who follow my column, you'll know that stabilizing blood sugar is key to keeping our metabolism turned on and our bodies releasing fat. In order to keep blood sugar stable, we need to eat a protein, a fat and a carb together every three hours throughout the day. Which actually provides multiple opportunities each day to enjoy your comfort food and burn fat while you do it. The key is adding to, or swapping ingredients from, you current comfort foods to make them PFC approved and allow your body to continue burning fat rather than store it.
Let's do a few examples. If you identify as a “sweet” person who prefers to drink something hot rather than eat, hot chocolate and whipped cream come to mind. Rather than the sugar-filled chocolate syrup or powders or driving through Starbucks, get yourself a good quality, good tasting chocolate protein powder, mix up a scoop with almond, coconut or cashew milk, heat through, and top with a dollop of coconut whip. Perfect on a lazy, rainy afternoon or cold winter morning. If you're a “savoury” person who needs to have something comforting to come home to for dinner, break out the crock pot or slow cooker. Crock pot meals are my personal fall favourites and I will often do up a big pot of turkey chilli or homemade chicken soup. For both of these, I go heavy on the protein, heavy on the veggies, organic and low sodium (or homemade) sauce/broth and skip the processed carbs like breads or noodles. Just knowing that slow cooker is on and the delicious smell that awaits you when you walk in the door at the end of the day is comfort and will keep you from grabbing a pizza on the way home. Now for those who can go either “sweet” or “savoury”, hot or cold, and often find themselves reaching for that bag of chips before dinner, try swapping them out for healthier options. Replacing regular potato or taco chips with ones made from beans or quinoa as they have some protein in them to help offset the carbs and keep blood sugar in line.
The bottom line is, when you're able to create PFC comfort food favs and have them readily available, you're setting yourself up to win through winter and blossom in the Spring.
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