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Jamie Joyner, RD, LD, HFS, St. Luke's Hospital

How to avoid winter weight gain

According to a 2010 Gallup poll, 65 percent of women are trying to lose weight. Unfortunately, winter is a challenging time for weight loss because the cold weather keeps us indoors where we tend to be less physically active. Also, holiday food challenges healthy eating habits, and with less fresh produce available, we tend to turn to more high-calorie packaged snacks.

Whether you are trying to lose a few pounds or simply trying to maintain your weight this season, here are a few things that could work against you:

Skipping Breakfast
Whether you skip breakfast to save time or to "save" calories, you may be doing your diet more harm than good. Skipping breakfast leads to increased hunger later in the day and larger portions of less healthy choices at lunch and dinner. Taking the time to eat breakfast can fight midmorning drowsiness and help control the amount of calories consumed during the rest of the day. A breakfast high in fiber and protein promotes healthy weight loss.

Overdoing Low-Fat Foods
Choosing low-fat foods can be a beneficial part of your diet plan, but low-fat doesn't mean you should eat more. People often think that eating low-fat foods means portion sizes don't matter. Low-fat foods still contain calories, and excess calories lead to weight gain whether they come from one serving of a "regular" food or three servings of a low-fat food. So, just because cookies are low-fat doesn't mean that you should eat three instead of one.

Skimping on Sleep
Diet and exercise aren't the only things that affect weight loss efforts. Skimping on sleep causes an increase in your body's hunger hormones, making you more likely to overeat during the day. Research finds that getting more sleep promotes loss of fat mass, while inadequate sleep (5.5 hours or less) burns more lean muscle mass.

Water Intake
Your body needs water to burn calories. Inadequate water intake can actually slow your metabolism, thus hindering weight loss. Water can help you metabolize the stored fat you already have more efficiently. Drink plenty of water before meals and throughout the day to help you feel fuller and eat fewer calories.

Jamie Joyner, RD, LD, HFS, is a registered and licensed dietitian and an ACSM Certified Health Fitness Specialist for St. Luke's Hospital. Call 314-442-3238 or visit the Nutrition Wellness Center page.

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on December 15, 2011.