Editor-in-Chief Michele Promaulayko on the sneaky ways the fall can impact your diet. (Video: Good Morning America)
Every season has its own temptations, but fall seems especially rife with dietary stumbling blocks. Between holiday-food fever, PSLs galore, and more time inside to snack away your feelings, the entire season can seem like a struggle.
As you start selecting foods for colder weather, beware the hidden cravings and temptations that lurk around every corner — some that you may not even realize exist. Here, we had experts call out the most common diet traps, so you can stick to your health goals all autumn.
These not-so-obvious autumn risks (daylight saving time, anyone?) can wage war on your weight. (Photos: Getty Images)
Trap No. 1: Shorter days
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a drain, right? You’re inside all the time, you’re probably working out less, and your mood may start to fall when the days get colder and shorter. “Getting less sunlight leads to a dip in serotonin levels, which can trigger depression and food cravings,” says Jessica Cording, RD, a dietitian in private practice in New York and New Jersey. “Carb cravings are especially common, as the body uses carbohydrates to produce more serotonin.”
Don’t completely deprive yourself. Instead, select one small, healthy carb to eat with each meal. “Try a side of whole grains like oats, quinoa, or whole-wheat bread,” Cording says. It’s a smart way to consistently feel satisfied.
Trap No. 2: Seasonal drinks
Don’t forget that a “seasonal coffee beverage” is packed with a lot more than the five calories in your normal black cup of joe. But how do you resist Starbucks’ new Toasted Graham Latte? You can’t always, so just make sure it’s the occasional treat, not your go-to morning caffeine hit for fall and winter.
Stick with antioxidant-rich teas and coffees with seasonally flavored roasts as much as you can. But when a PSL beckons, slim it down. “Make it a tall, not a venti, with nonfat milk and no whip,” says Keri Gans, RD, author of The Small Change Diet. “You’ll knock off 100 calories right there.” Another trick? Try one pump of the flavored syrup to cut back on sugar and calories. (A barista might add five or six pumps if you don’t specify.)
Trap No. 3: You’re eating less produce
Because fruits and veggies are more synonymous with summer than fall, produce consumption really drops off by the time the leaves are changing color. “Take a stroll through your local farmers’ market and scope out the goods, which can reignite your interest in seasonal fruits and veggies,” Cording says. Spoiler alert: There are still so many great produce options, from crisp apples to versatile Brussels sprouts.
Choose what Cording calls “high-quality starchy vegetables” like sweet potatoes, squash, and pumpkin to feed your need for carbs and get a big nutrient boost. A recent study published in PLoS Medicine showed that all veggies are not beacons of great health. Options like corn, peas, and potatoes had higher potential for weight gain over time, whereas Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and squash were protective against extra pounds.
Trap No. 4: Warm comfort foods
When you want to warm up in the cold, it’s natural to crave hot comfort foods like spaghetti, mashed potatoes, and chicken pot pie — even though they’re not very waistline-friendly. Since many of these indulgences find their way onto restaurant menus in the fall, take away some temptation by eating at home more often. “For example, pureed beans make a low-fat, high-protein, high-fiber swap for cream in soups,” says Cording. “You can also use low-sodium chicken broth instead of cream and butter in mashed potatoes or casseroles.”
If you want something substantial like, say, mac ’n’ cheese, think of creative ways to get your fix for fewer calories. “Why not do whole-wheat noodles or pasta, melt on low-fat cheese, and toss with broccoli?” Gans suggests. “Always throw in a veggie, which adds volume and fiber without the extra calories.”
Trap No. 5: Daylight saving time
Even though we technically gain an hour, the autumn time change can mess with your sleep cycle and throw your system completely out of whack. “Sleep deprivation disrupts the levels of our hunger hormones, leptin and ghrelin,” says Cording. “This is why you feel extra hungry when you’re tired.”
Cording suggestions using melatonin before bed for a few days to get back on track with a regular sleep schedule. Start the day off right with a warm bowl of oatmeal; a recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition showed that oatmeal kept participants fuller and reduced their desire to eat between breakfast and lunch when compared with standard ready-to-eat boxed cereals.
Another trick to curb cravings: Eat smaller meals and snacks more often during the day, mixing protein and fiber — low-fat dairy with berries, nuts and seeds, lean cuts of meat, and veggies.
Trap No. 6: Holiday fatigue and stress
It’s inescapable. Once PSLs hit the market in early September, the holiday hype has officially begun — from candy and sweets for Halloween to a bounty of comfort foods around Thanksgiving, straight through to the indulgent beverages and desserts bookending Christmas.
And since the most wonderful time of the year is also one of the most stressful times of the year, you may start mindlessly noshing, according to Lauren Popeck, RD, a dietitian at Orlando Health. “Nourish yourself with foods that are proven to help reduce stress, such as turkey or salmon, avocados, yogurt, antioxidant-rich blueberries and dark chocolate, and satisfying nuts and seeds,” she says.
Planting a specific “treat time” into your schedule is a super-effective way to avoid the onslaught of seasonal desserts. “If you’re looking forward to homemade pumpkin pie on the weekend, it can easier to turn down stale candy at a reception desk or grocery-store cookies in the break room at work,” says Cording.
Trap No. 7: Finger foods
Whether you’re eating wings at a tailgate party or fun-size candy pre-Halloween, everything is bite-size this season. That’s great if you can stop at two, but not so great if you lose track of how many you’ve eaten and go way over the suggested serving size.
Don’t perch by the snack table. “It’s all about setting limits, which you need to remind yourself about before the party or the tailgate,” says Gans. “If it’s candy, you choose one. With finger food, limit yourself to five. Five fingers on your hand, five finger foods.” Popeck suggests toting your own healthier finger foods with you to a gathering. “Bring your own veggie tray to the party, or take easy lean proteins that are lower in sodium, such as shrimp or chicken skewers,” she says.
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