As the hours of light now get shorter and the weather turns colder it sure is easy to get into hibernation mode in most parts of the northern hemisphere. Don’t you want to eat heavier foods (and more of them) in the fall/winter relative to the spring/summer months? Isn’t it harder to exercise in the dark and cold? As we enter fall and approach winter you might want to be thoughtful and proactive to keep your good health behaviors of the summer consistent in the winter. Here are three behavior tips to do so that I use with many of my patients and students:
1. Just because you have an itch doesn’t mean you have to scratch it! You don’t have to indulge all of your impulses.
Of course you want to eat more and exercise less during the winter compared to the summer months. Who doesn’t? But just because you want to eat rich foods and be a couch potato doesn’t mean you should do so. If you want to maintain good health and fitness you really can’t just do what you feel like doing. Additionally, you can’t depend on willpower either since it is highly unreliable. After working with countless patients in my clinical practice who wish to improve their physical and mental health it seems clear to me (as well as in my reading of the research literature and my work with college students on behavior change projects) that you really need to structure your environment with social engineering in mind to maximize healthy eating and exercise during the most challenging times of the year. Taking a class, keeping problematic foods out of the house, having exercise partners, getting a large dog that needs lots of walking, and so forth are ways to structure your world to increase the chances of good eating and exercise decisions.
2. Be proactive and not reactive
When it comes to exercise and diet decisions in the fall and winter you really want to be proactive and not reactive. You really can’t just wing it. You have to think through how you are going to structure your time, shopping, exercise, meal planning in such a way that maximizes healthy decisions. Just like you have to be organized about your work, child care, vacation planning, and the like, you really have to use the same organizational skills to map out how you will exercise and eat during challenging times. Having a reasonable exercise game plan for rain, snow, cold, and darkness is critical. Having a reasonable game plan for wanting to eat high fat and high calorie rich foods is also important too (especially once we get to the winter holidays).
3. Don’t do it alone
It is a lot easier to maintain good habits if you have social support and corrective feedback from trusted others. Keeping a good diet and exercise plan during the fall and winter is a lot easier if you are reporting in to someone or trying to do it with others. A spouse, close friend, co-worker, or anyone you might trust and enjoy can allow you the opportunity to have a great and collaborative teammate in your efforts.
So, as we now enter fall and winter is right around the corner don’t let your health and fitness gains made during the spring and summer atrophy. Use these three tips to hopefully maintain or even improve exercise and diet and you’ll thank me later for doing so!
So, what do you think?
Copyright Thomas G. Plante, PhD, ABPP