No matter how awesome fall is – with its changing colors, crisp air and pumpkin-packed recipes – it’s also a bittersweet reminder that winter is on its way. And with winter comes short, dark days, bitter temps and a nagging temptation to hibernate with a bowl of calorie-packed comfort foods.
But you don’t have to let your summer successes turn into winter weight gain. By preparing and cementing your wintertime self-care strategies before the first snowflake falls, you can most effectively combat wintertime fatigue, skipped workouts, blue moods and extra holiday pounds, says Susan Albers, a clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic and author of “Eat Q: Unlock The Weight-Loss Power of Emotional Intelligence.”
Here, experts share six strategies that are never too early to put into practice. Cross them off of your fall to-do list for your healthiest winter yet.
1. Mark your calendar with goals.
Wait until the New Year to set health and fitness goals, and you’ll find yourself with a hole to dig yourself out of, says certified personal trainer Erik Marthaler, co-founder of Lateral Fitness in Chicago. Use fall to capitalize on any healthy habits you had over the summer (think: outdoor runs and bright, produce-packed meals) and set a long-term goal that will carry you clear into spring.
“Have something on the calendar such as a spring race and then put together a training plan that will lead you up to that date to keep you on track,” he says, emphasizing the importance of having weekly and monthly mini-goals to keep you accountable and prevent procrastination.
2. Experiment with indoor fitness classes.
Absolutely hate exercising in cold winter weather? Start trying new indoor fitness classes now so that by the time the bitter winds strike, you’ve become a regular in a class you love. Having a winter workout that you legitimately look forward to – and an accountability system in place to help you through those days when motivation is lacking – is critical to fitness success.
Try out one-time drop-in classes or consider subscribing to ClassPass for access to various group classes in your area before paying for a full membership. And speaking of local, opt for classes that are close to your home or work. That way, when the weather gets rough, you’ll have one less obstacle to getting to and from the studio.
3. Start combating SAD now.
While 6 percent of Americans suffer from full-on seasonal affective disorder, 14 percent of adults deal with winter blues, a less-severe form of seasonal mood change that similarly involves fatigue, depressive moods and overeating, according to research from Georgetown University Medical School. And, contrary to its name, it actually tends to start in the fall.
Take action now by talking to you doctor about whether you need a vitamin D supplement, Albers recommends. While fortified milk and orange juice, and dark, leafy greens contain some vitamin D, the bulk of your body’s D levels come from sun exposure, which tends to be at a minimum in the winter. So try to soak up all you can (while still wearing sunscreen, of course!) now by getting outside whenever you can and even re-positioning your desk near a window if possible. You may also want to consider using a vitamin D lamp or light therapy box to help keep your mood up during the darker months. When it comes to these therapies, you can never start to soon.
4. Practice eating for the right reason.
During the winter, there are so many reasons to eat – from holiday parties to lackluster energy levels to cravings for something warm, gooey and filled with fat. However, it’s important to remember that the best reason to eat is hunger, explains registered dietitian Georgie Fear, author of "Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss."
But eating in response to hunger (rather all of the other stuff) is a habit that takes time to build and requires tuning into your own hunger cues in what may be an unfamiliar way, she says. Whenever you go to reach for a bite of something, ask yourself, “Am I actually hungry?”
Ideally, you should eat when you feel just slightly hungry and stop when you feel slightly satisfied. So, if the answer to your question is “No,” consider what’s behind your craving and what you can do to better address your sweet tooth or winter blues. After all, if hunger isn’t the problem, eating isn’t the solution.
5. Adjust your winter mentality.
There’s a certain power to be gained from embracing the cold rather than trying to wish it away. “Stay in the now and focus on what the season provides,” Albers says. That could be the extra support from time spent with friends and family or fun activities such as snowball fights and holiday-themed runs.
“You don’t have to decide you are going to be a snow bunny right away. Take baby steps into your outdoor activities,” Marthaler says. Go ice-skating on date night or plan a family skiing trip. Don’t have an opportunity to make it to the mountains? Then cross-country skiing is perfect for you. And what a workout!
6. Gear up.
Now’s the time to start shopping for the workout gear you need to stay warm and comfortable on your treks to and from the gym – not to mention any outdoor workouts, says Marthaler, noting that many brands offer early-season sales (another big reason to get browsing ASAP!). Consider a waterproof jacket, ear warmers, gloves and even ice cleats. The latter strap on and attach to your favorite running shoes to help you keep traction when traversing ice, snow and slush.