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April 10, 2019, 8:00 PM GMT
By Samantha Cassetty, RD
It’s pretty common to let healthy habits go on winter break, but come spring, you may notice your clothes are a bit tighter or you lack the energy for new, warm-weather adventures. Spring happens to be an excellent time to put some healthier habits in place: the warmer weather is perfect for increasing your activity levels and the longer hours of sunshine mean you can safely spend that extra active time outdoors. Plus, your farmer’s market will usher in some new produce with the season change, and many of those options (think: asparagus, spring peas and strawberries) freshen up your menu. One more thing to love about spring: No one’s pushing heavy holiday food week after week. If your healthy habits need some dusting off, here are five ways to get healthier and take off winter weight this spring.
Connect with your motivation
I’ve already mentioned many reasons why this is the best time of year to get healthy, but losing weight means taking a long-term view (as you likely know!), so the first step is to explore your personal reasons for taking off these extra pounds now. Think beyond the scale. For example, you may feel it’s harder to move around than you’d like, so you’re looking to move with more ease. Or maybe you had a close relative with a health condition and you’d like to offset those concerns. Or perhaps you’d like to take charge of your health without medications. There’s no right or wrong answer here, and your answer may change over time.
I recently learned that this is a first step to joining the WW program (formerly known as Weight Watchers) because it’s such an effective motivator. Exploring the reasons you want to lose weight can help cultivate a positive and forward-thinking mindset. Plus, you may find that you’ll experience benefits like more energy, better sleep, or less irritability sooner than a so-called goal weight. These healthy eating perks can be really powerful motivators to help you stick with your new, healthier habits.
Think about your drinks
Sure, heavy winter sips, like hot chocolate, are off the menu, but sugary soft drinks, frozen coffee drinks, lemonade, sweetened teas, sports drinks, and even iced matcha lattes can be loaded with added sugars. And then there are the margaritas and other spring-time cocktails. If you’re sipping sugary drinks on the regular, it’s a good idea to cut way back. Here’s why: Your body doesn’t compute liquids the same way it computes solids, so calorie-for-calorie, you’ll never feel as satisfied with sips.
Have coffee and tea drinks minus the sugary mix-ins (and double check the plant-based milk you’re using to lighten up your caffeine fix; it’s another sneaky sugar source); try basic alcoholic beverages, like beer, wine or plain spirits mixed with seltzer, and cap yourself at the daily target of one drink for women, two for men. This last suggestion isn’t about the added sugar, but it’s solid health and weight loss advice. After a few too many drinks, it’s pretty common to throw caution to the wind and rationalize the greasy happy hour nachos or the after-dinner chocolate mousse cake. If you want these things, you’re better off enjoying them mindfully, which also means minus the buzz.
You probably already know what I’m about to say here: Water is the way to go. It’s the best replacement for sugary drinks and spring is an ideal time to bring on the water infusions! Strawberries, kiwi, lemon, lime and pineapple are some seasonal fruits that bring more flavor to your H20.
Though it’s not set in stone, a good number to aim for is 64 ounces of water per day, which will vary, depending on your activity levels, climate (hot, humid temps might call for more), and some other factors. One easy way to think about is it to fill up a 16-ounce water bottle first-thing in the morning. Aim to have two of those bottles by mid-afternoon and another two before you go to bed.
The truth is, you don’t need to count calories to lose weight if you get a few things right. For starters, eat more whole foods and especially more veggies, and cut way back on overly processed and super sugary stuff. A good goal is to aim for a half-plate of veggies at lunch and dinner. (At breakfast, veggies are optional, but always encouraged!)
If you’re currently a veggie-phobe, start sprinkling them into foods you already enjoy. I’ve found that a fruit and veggie smoothie, an omelet or frittata, a pasta dish, and soup are some good entry-level options.
Another way to go is to trade starchy carbs for veggies in flavorful meals you already love. This Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai and this Vegetarian Spaghetti Squash Ramen are both perfect examples of veggie-forward meals that don’t skimp on flavor or satisfaction! You could also try subbing in zucchini noodles for spaghetti (in part or in full), consider serving a saucy dish (like a stir-fry) over riced broccoli or cauliflower, or try a cauliflower crust pizza instead of a regular pie. This type of swap is a great way to lighten up meals you love while also sneaking in those much-needed veggies!
Have a snack strategy
I’ve found there are three distinct snack personalities: An auto-pilot snacker, an over-snacker and a strategic snacker. Here’s what I mean: Snacking on auto-pilot means you’re snacking on a schedule — say, 3 p.m. is snack-o-clock or you always need an after-dinner munchy or dessert — or you’re mindlessly snacking on office freebies (think: a tray of donuts, a candy dish, a leftover lunch platter). Over-snackers eat lightly at breakfast and lunch but snack their way until dinner (and often afterwards) to catch up with the hunger that was never satisfied earlier in the day. Both of these snacking behaviors will interfere with weight-loss goals.
In general, if you’re eating meals made with whole foods and generous servings of veggies, you should feel comfortably satisfied for a few hours. If you feel the need to snack in an hour or two, it’s possible your meals are too light and need some tweaking. Most people need just one or two snacks a day, and they should be timed to when you’re going the longest stretch between meals.
Strategic snackers don’t over-rely on snacks, but instead, snack when the next meal is still a while away and they need some energy to keep them going. Another smart snack strategy is to stick with the theme of more whole food options, like a peach with some Greek yogurt or some red pepper strips with guac. These types of choices provide a steady stream of energy to power your day and they nourish your body with the substances it needs to support your weight-loss goals.
Try this one rule of intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting (or IF) helps you align your eating schedule to when your body’s hormones and metabolism are optimized to process food. But the structure of restricting eating to certain time windows also helps offsets the auto-pilot snacking that’s so common after dinner. Put a hard-stop on eating within two to three hours of bedtime. Not only will this help to curb late-night snacking, but it also helps make sure you’re eating when you have time to use the “energy” that food supplies. Plus, this habit enables better sleep, which also supports weight-loss efforts.