A week into winter and already the great migration indoors has begun.
Pint of Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey?
Not so fast. Before sinking your ice cream spoon, consider this: Between Thanksgiving and New Year's, the average person gains five pounds. That's an extra 600 calories per day -- without factoring in the inevitable winter weight gain.
"As soon as you put an elastic waistband on, that's the end of you," said registered dietitian Barbara Bowen. "What do you do when you get home from work? Put your hair back and put on something cozy. There might be some type of physical chemistry, but I honestly think it's big sweaters and elastic waistbands."
Winter also allows more time to think -- about what we want to change. It's all about self-improvement, whether it be a new relationship, a different job -- or a better body. What better time to put on a new face than for the New Year?
>New Year's Drill
Step One: Old resolutions do not work. You must come up with new material.
"Buy a healthy cookbook!" suggested Bowen. "You may want to cook healthy, but without the source of a good cookbook, you will likely be scrambling."
Now, take it one step further. Right about this time of year, many people are feeling stressed out after riding a holiday season short on relaxation and exercise. The solution?
"Consider taking cookie baking out of next year's holiday festivities," Bowen said. "At the very least, cut down to one or two varieties (more variety leads to more temptation). Or you could try a new healthy tradition like a low-fat cheesecake. Taking the focus off food will offer you more time, less temptation and guilt, and plenty of opportunity for celebrating a year of healthy resolutions."
Be specific in your resolutions, Bowen said. A resolution of "no more junk food" is too broad and too restrictive. You'll want to break it as soon as you make it. Instead try: "I'm not going to buy any more candy at the office" or "I will not eat fast food more than once a week."
Lastly, check out "America on the Move" (online at www.americaonthemove.org), a national program that helps people manage their health issues. The road to a healthier lifestyle, according to co-founder John Peters, is lined with little accomplishments.
"The average American gains 1.8 pounds a year," Peters said. "The difference between gaining that weight and not gaining it is about 100 calories a day. That's a few bites of whatever to leave behind on your plate and feed to the dog. It's walking an extra 2,000 steps a day, which is about a mile of walking. Most people get about 5,000 or 6,000 steps a day anyway. It's doable."
>Keep winter fat-free
It makes perfect sense. Since winter sends most of us indoors, why not stock your pantry with good food?
"You only eat the garbage that you bring into your house," Bowen said. "If you didn't have cookies, what else would be in your house? Ice cream? Applesauce?"
Try No Pudge Brownies, a fat-free brownie mix that comes packaged in a pink box with a pig on the front. For salad dressing, choose Wish-Bone Just 2 Good, which contains just 2 grams of fat.
"When you're making your warm, hearty foods, use chicken or turkey," which has less saturated fat and cholesterol, suggested Bowen. "Beans is the super food because they contain more phytochemicals than any other food -- almost a complete protein -- and every single bean is different."
And who said less is more? Most women set 1,800 to 2,000 as their caloric limit. They try the latest diet and then quickly lose steam.
"Make sure you're getting sufficient calories," Bowen said. "The more you diet, the more you kill your metabolism. Calorie requirements vary according to height, weight, age and activity levels. Just make sure they're good-quality calories. Anything that's white-processed, bleach-bromated, commercially prepared has to go."
You may also want to rethink your drink.
"Buy better beverages," Bowen urged. "Stick with milk, 100-percent juice and lots of water. Avoid pop and fruit drinks like Kool-Aid, High C and Gatorade."
An accurate way to track your calories is www.calorieking.com, a database that offers nutritional information for more than 50,000 foods including restaurant offerings and brand food items.
Other reputable online sites are: www.nhlbi.nih.gov, www.eatright.org, www.mypyramid.gov.
Change requires motivation, and the greatest motivator of all is emotion, according to counselor Rene Jones, who added this caveat: Do it for yourself.
"Start with what is good about you, what does not need changing," said Jones. "Also identify what you can't change and accept it. Identify the obstacles and what will be your plan to get by them. The biggest thing to remember is that failure is not falling down, it's not getting back up. Everybody fails. Nobody gets it right 100 percent of the time. A lot is reevaluating. Maybe your goal was unrealistic."
The biggest reason for failure, added Jones, is trying to change too much at once.
"You try to do 180-degree changes, dramatic changes," she said, "like wanting to lose 50 pounds. Think of it as a map, and along the way you will pass all these short-term goals: 'Today I will buy more vegetables.' 'Next I will take cooking lessons.' 'I'm going to be healthy today.' 'I'm going to get my body toned.' "
Jones encourages the concept of motivational Post-It notes. Be your own cheerleader. Jones starts each day with her own Post-It statement: "I embrace the potential of this day."
"They should be small goals that a person can achieve and feel some success at, because the key to motivation is having rewards," Jones said. "Don't expect to start working out five days a week when you haven't worked out one day in the past 10 years."