I am thrilled by autumn’s arrival. Sipping a warm latte while taking a walk down a colorful tree-lined street, wrapped in a cozy sweater and riding boots? Uh, yeah! Sign me up. There’s a whole lot to love about the current season. Football games. Halloween. Thanksgiving. Cozier clothing. Comfort foods. Bonfires. Cuffing season. Cool weather and hot drinks. Mmm. Cheers! …But hold up one sec. Before I wax poetic about autumn’s delights, did you notice the common thread in that list? Every single item I mentioned has the potential to derail your health goals. No good thing comes without a price, right? Luckily, I’ve got you covered with a few easy-to-follow guidelines. Let’s break down the ways and times we compromise our diet and fitness regimens as the weather cools down—and how to avoid that fate, while still enjoying some fall favorites.
Trap: Football food isn’t exactly forgiving. Tailgates and viewing parties abound during game time and pre-game festivities, complete with beer, wings, burgers and hot dogs, loaded potato skins, fatty “salads” that do nothing for your waistline. Fix: Offer to bring your own dish along, and make it something healthy—like a plate of fresh-cut veggies, or a grilled-chicken salad. Stick to one indulgence. It’s beer or a few loaded potato skins, not both.
Trap: A Starbucks cup is practically a fall accessory in its own right. However, tons of the contents in that little white cup are sugar, calorie and fat bombs. From pumpkin spice lattes, to mochas and hot cocoa, warm drinks can run you up toward 400 or 500 calories if you’re not careful. Fix: If you want your favorite coffee-shop beverage, order up that chai tea latte (YOLO, right?). At the same time, that specific order should be the exception and not the rule. On a regular basis, stick to nonfat lattes with flavorful spices cinnamon and nutmeg, the array of nutrient-rich teas available (from peach to ginger) and all the killer seasonal coffee roasts (holiday blends and pumpkin are comin’). It’s warming up the smarter way.
Trap: First of all, it’s not as easy to get motivated for your workout when temperatures are taking a nosedive. Secondly, it’s easier to hide that extra five pounds under a big, roomy sweater instead of the bikini—or so you rationalize. Fix: Start budgeting for your winter workouts. If you can exercise outside most days in the summer, save your gym or yoga membership for the months you’re stuck indoors. Beautiful weather is motivation enough to get an outdoor workout in the summer. In the winter, if you’re paying for that workout, you’re more likely to follow through. And don’t just stick to cozy oversize clothes and leggings during the winter. Wear jeans and trousers once in a while to make sure they’re not getting hard to zip into. It’s checking your health status without obsessing over the scale.
Trap: As a midwest girl, I’m well-acquainted with the bonfire get-together. These casual affairs are usually coupled with a lot of eating and chatting—and not much activity. It’s easy to tip back a few beers, cook up some s’mores and dogs, indulge in some cocoa and totally bust your calorie bank every weekend. Fix: Mix it up! Suggest a corn maze or haunted house to your crew, so you’re moving instead of eating. And no more than one s’more or cup of hot chocolate. If you must eat something sweet outside that, roast up another marshmallow. At 25 calories a pop, they’re not packing nutrients, but they’re also not packing on potential pounds.
Trap: I get it. When the weather cools off, that creamy, cheesy soup is way more appealing than a cold salad. But in the fall and winter, one cannot (should not) live on mashed potatoes and mac n’ cheese alone. Fix: Steam or bake your veggies, so feel warmed and satisfied while still getting your daily dose of key nutrients and fiber. Also, sub those comfort food favorites for veggie-based alternatives like spaghetti squash, cauliflower mashed potatoes or eggplant pizza crust (at least sometimes). When you’re noshing on the real deal, make sure it’s a side and not the main event. The key word is portion. Half a cup is enough to satisfy, but not overindulge.
Trap: It’s a truth universally acknowledged that many seek out relationships in the fall, leading into the holiday season. If you’re going on dates and getting serious with a special someone, it’s easy to drink a little too much, eat a few too many restaurant meals, and put on some unintended “happy weight.” Fix: Go ahead, get lost in love! Just don’t lose sight of your health goals. Plan active dates where you’re working out together, or at least walking—apple-picking, pumpkin patches, corn mazes, walks in the park—and build healthy meals at home, like a batch of broth-based veggie soup or roasted Brussels sprouts. (Cooking together real bonding, my friends.)
Trap: You might be an adult, but that doesn’t mean Halloween has lost its appeal. Whether you’re a parent picking at your child’s enormous mounds of candy, or you’re at a party with fancy spooky cocktails and sweet treats—you’ve got to be careful around October 31. Fix: Set limits. The week of Halloween, stick to the rule of one per indulgence per day. If you’re attending a party, you get one cocktail or one dessert. Choose wisely. And if you’re noshing on candy at home, give away or set aside everything you don’t absolutely love. If you’re a Twix and Snickers fanatic, but think fruity stuff and M&Ms are just meh, you know what’s hitting the wayside—and then, again, one sweet treat per day only, and it stops the week after Halloween. No noshing until that candy is finally gone by, say, mid-April.
Trap: While the table is likely lovely and overflowing with heavenly comfort foods, Thanksgiving might be the worst health trap of the season. Not only do we overindulge on the day, but we’re also likely to retain oodles of leftovers. Ah! Fix: First, you want to enjoy yourself—but make it your goal to feel comfortable by day’s end and not stuffed. Pick one or two indulgences at the table—like sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes with gravy, pecan or pumpkin pie—and stick to taste-testing portions of the others. Try to fill your plate with lean cuts of turkey, salads, and veggies like corn and green beans so you don’t overdo it on the caloric stuff. If you’re the host, send leftovers out the door with each guest. It’s the generous thing to do, and you’re saving yourself from temptation in the fridge for days to come. And at the end of the day, no matter what happens at the table? You let it go, and start fresh tomorrow. Diets are not made in one day, so don’t let any “mistakes” get you down.