Young Professionals (Juice file photo)

(Juice file photo)

Declare war, conquer winter weight

Published on February 18th, 2014 | by Josh Hafner

It’s a yearly tradition for many central Iowans: The temperature outside drops down and the number on the scale creeps up.

Packing on extra winter pounds — the end result of endless turkey and gravy in November and one-too-many eggnogs in December — happens to the best of us and can continue on well into February. Did you down a few handfuls chocolate-covered bacon at Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival this month? Yeah, yeah you did.

If you find yourself heftier now than you were last June, here’s two comforting truths: One, those winter layers you’ve been sporting since October have hidden your new-found girth. Breathe easy! Two, winter weight happens to just about all of us. So says Kelsey Ermels, a dietician with UnityPoint Health’s weight loss clinic.

“We absolutely see people put on winter weight,” Ermels said. “You have environmental (difficulties), but I think if people want to lose weight in the winter, it can absolutely be done.”

By environmental difficulties, Ermels means the way-too-rich macaroni and cheese your grandmother makes during Thanksgiving followed by the sweet-mother-how-are-these-so-good holiday cookies at that Christmas party.

The season is littered with excuses to eat and very little motivation to run outdoors or work out in a crowded gym, Ermels said. And what’s Valentine’s Day if not a giant excuse to eat chocolate? Are we doomed?

UnityPoint’s weight loss clinic sees people seeking everything from weight loss surgery to better dietary choices or tips on proper exercise. In the winter, visitors to the clinic can put on “at least five pounds, easy,” she said. “And those are people who are trying to lose weight.” Those who don’t may add on as many as 15 to 20 pounds.

Scientists have disagreed on whether winter weight is rooted in something evolutionary, our bodies’ ancient urge that drives us to pack on extra pounds in hopes of surviving winter. Ermels isn’t sure, she said.

She is sure, however, that we can all be smarter when it comes to winter nom noms.

The first step: Bump up your exercise routine (or start one). Second, plan your meals. Leave no calorie up to chance. Last-minute decisions on what to do for dinner can too easily turn into fast-food failures, Ermels said.

Go grocery shopping and plan out each meal for the week, including lots of fruits and vegetables for snacking. High-fiber foods, like black beans, green peas and whole-wheat pastas, can help you feel full and stave off overeating.

Even a winter comfort food like pizza can be made slightly less disastrous, she said: Use whole-wheat crust and stick with veggie pizzas. Swap ham or chicken for pepperoni or sausage and always use red sauces, she said — the white and green ones are higher in fat.

About the Author

covers young professionals for The Des Moines Register. Josh can be reached at or on Twitter via @joshhafner.

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