Why Winter is so Hard for Maintaining Weight

By: Dr. Domenica Rubino


Why is winter so hard for maintaining weight (even after the holiday parties are over)? Food, mood and activity are all affected by the change in season.

On the average a person may gain 1-3 pounds, not the 5-7 often heard on the radio or seen in magazines. The problem is this new weight is typically maintained and every year this can add up.

Who is prone to weight gain? Research suggests that those who are biologically pre-disposed to weight gain and who may already be overweight may be more likely to gain weight. Men also seem to be at slightly greater risk compared to women.

The change in environment, cold, and darkness affects all of the key influences on weight—I mean who wants to go out for a walk when it is 30 degrees and dark? And for that matter, who wants a salad?  So understanding that food, mood and activity are all vulnerable to the cold of winter can help you manage.

First step is recognizing that we are going to be seeking warm, savory, comforting foods. Time to drag out the crock pot-explore making soups and chili –a good way to add vegetables, flavor and volume.

Like a thicker soup? Try adding a beaten egg, yogurt or milk to make your soup creamier, or take a portion of soup out and use a blender or processor to thicken it up by adding some cooked beans and add back to the soup.

For added texture, add beans or grains to the soup that have protein and a lower glycemic index, such as farro or quinoa. In the winter, take the time to make roasted vegetables, especially ones with a thicker texture like the squashes or sweet potato. Experiment with different herbs and spices. Consider a cooking class.

Recognize any mood changes during this time of year. Some individuals are very sensitive to the lack of sunlight and can feel down or depressed during this time period. If you have a history of seasonal affective disorder, consider light therapy. Some individuals with depression may need their medication altered during the winter. Check your vitamin D levels and make sure that they are normal.

Since many of us are less active during the winter, this can be a trigger for worsening mood. Research supports the effectiveness of being active in promoting better stress management and mood. Be aware of feeling lonely. Get together with friends and maintain a social group. Consider volunteering or following up on an interest of hobby through classes where you can meet others with similar interests.

The change in season often disrupts our activity routine. Consider having a winter plan—come up with something different just for the winter (check out our tips below). Try out different activities, consider taking a class where it is warm and there are people around.   Walking is still the easiest for most to do just about anywhere. Try bundling up and taking a 10-15 minute walk every day.  If it is icy out, be safe and walk at the mall or escape to the museum (free in DC!); try a video at home or take a class at the rec center.

So remember, winter does present unique challenges, but by being more in tune with these factors it can help support weight loss or weight maintenance goals.


Perspectives on Holiday Eating

By: Lauren Trocchio, RD, CSSD, LD

So many folks see the holiday season as a double-edged sword: a time of year for scrumptious specialty foods, yet an attack on their willpower and waistline.

As we are presently in the middle of a long stretch of holidays, consider these ideas to bring some perspective to the season:

1. It’s okay for food to bring pleasure. Food is a tremendous part of our culture. It’s associated with celebrations, family and friends, events…and pleasure. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

In fact, experiment with what it is about certain foods that is pleasurable – take time to enjoy each bite, examine the aroma and texture and flavor. Just this sample act can make you more mindful at meals. You may even find that favorite foods which you are concerned can lead to overeating and subsequent shame aren’t all that pleasurable.

2. Practice letting go. One meal or one snack or one day does not our wellness make. Quite often it’s not what we eat at a particular meal but our thoughts and reaction after it that impacts our eating habits and weight the most.

Feel like having a piece of pie? Practice compassionate self-talk afterwards – “I’m allowed to enjoy foods”, “I listened to my body and ate when I was hungry, stopped when I was full”, or “I feel like I overate, but that’s normal occasionally – tomorrow I will check-in with my hunger and fullness to get back on track.”

3. What do you want to enjoy? Ask yourself this question before meals. Parties and holiday gatherings can mean an abundance of food choices, so really ask yourself what it is you want to enjoy at that meal.

Instinct may be to avoid it, but instead try including it. Avoid grabbing some of everything, perhaps never feeling satisfied. Instead, build it into your meal while listening to your body’s hunger and fullness cues. And sometimes you may find what you want to enjoy isn’t just food, but something else like the company of family and friends.

Pumpkin Oatmeal


This recipe kicked off our breakfast cooking demo. As it gets cooler outside, you may find yourself gravitating towards warmer breakfast foods. Oatmeal is a great option for fiber, and making it with milk or soy milk boosts the protein. Try adding pumpkin for a seasonal spin on a class breakfast food.

(serves 4)

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups milk or soy milk
¼ cup pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
¼ cup maple syrup
½ cup chopped pecans

1. Bring the oats and milk to a boil in a pan. Once boiling, reduce to simmer and cover to cook for 5-6 minutes.
2. Add the pumpkin, vanilla, pumpkin pie spice, and maple syrup to the pan.
3. Serve topped with chopped pecans.

Note: To make this a well-balanced breakfast, pair it with a Greek yogurt or 2 scrambled or hard-boiled eggs to increase the protein.

Nutrition facts (1 serving): 210 calories, 10 g protein, 4 g fiber, 8 g fat

Adapted from http://www.damndelicious.com

The Low FODMAP Approach for Managing Irritable Bowel Syndrome

By: Lauren Trocchio, RD, CSSD, LD

It is estimated that irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, impacts 5-10% of Americans.1 In my office, the number of patients diagnosed with or presenting with IBS-like symptoms seems higher. IBS is a common functional gastrointestinal disorder characterized by abdominal pain or discomfort and altered bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation, or both).  It is often diagnosed after ruling out other conditions such as Celiac disease, ulcerative colitis, or small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).

Research hasn’t quite nailed down the cause of IBS but to date points to a combination of factors – the microbiome, infection history, genetics, gut permeability, immune activation, the gut-brain axis, and food intolerances may all play a part. While there are medication treatment options, at present, one of our best tools for managing symptoms is diet.  Based on research, a low FODMAP diet has become the primary line of defense.

FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides and Polyols (hence why we just say FODMAP!).  FODMAPs are types of carbohydrates that may leave the small intestine incompletely digested, which contributes to water getting drawn into the small and large intestine (leading to diarrhea) and increased bacterial “feeding” on the undigested carbohydrates (creating gas, bloating, and/or constipation).  Gas and bloating leads to distension and abdominal pain, and seemingly individuals with IBS are more sensitive to this sensation than others might be.

FODMAPs come from all sorts of foods, including dairy, grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Typically an individual with IBS will follow a low FODMAP diet for 2-6 weeks and monitor for symptom improvement. If symptoms improve, then foods can be systematically added back in to assess which foods are the biggest “offenders”. It’s important to note that a low FODMAP diet is not a balanced approach for long-term eating, so reintroducing foods is essential. A registered dietitian experienced with a low FODMAP diet can help create a low FODMAP menu and appropriate food reintroduction plan.

Here is an example list of foods consider HIGH in FODMAPs:

-Cow’s milk

An important thing to keep in mind before you attempt a low FODMAP diet: if you have not been tested for celiac disease but plan to do so, do not start the low FODMAP approach prior to the test. Wheat is eliminated as part of the plan and elimination of it could potentially lead to a false negative result.

For further explanation on low FODMAPs, check out this video by Monash University, a pioneer in IBS and FODMAP research.

  1. ACG Task Force on IBS. Am J Gastroenterol. 2009; 104 (suppl I): S1-S35.

A Nutrition Plan is Only as Strong as its Flexibility


By: Lauren Trocchio, RD, CSSD, LD

The “p” word gets thrown around a lot in my office. A plan. We gotta have one.

I talk about having a plan, my patients talk about having a plan. We do lots of planning. And it’s good stuff! Study after study has shown that planning is an important piece to maintaining habits – and not just on the nutrition front, but for activity and sleep and pretty much any other goal.

But perhaps even more important than having a plan is what to do when things don’t go as planned.

The in-laws come to visit. A busy weekend prevents a trip to the grocery store. A cold knocks out your weekly exercise. A late workday runs into dinner time.

In other words, things come up. It’s inevitable. In fact, at certain times in life it can feel more routine to be off your routine.

Have you ever done bumper bowling? Stick with me here. In those times when the nutrition plan is really thrown awry by life, the ability to be flexible and adjust is like those rails in bumper bowling – they help course correct, they help keep us generally on the path even when our initial aim was a little off.

So what does being flexible mean? It might mean something different for different people, but here are a few examples:

  1. Change up the types of foods. If you normally have 2 eggs with a slice of toast and ¼ avocado at breakfast but it’s pretty clear you won’t find that in your empty refrigerator, try switching it up with comparable foods. Or have dinner for breakfast. If you don’t feel comfortable with how to swap foods for similar nutrition content, work with your dietitian to better understand the basics. Feel deflated because you love your eggs and avocado? Make sure to hit up the store that night and have it for dinner instead.


  1. Get comfortable with “imperfection”. There will be times when you can’t (or won’t) eat 100% according to your plan. This is normal. I repeat, this is normal. What’s more important is how you react and adapt to this situation. If you can be okay with the fact that not having your eggs and avocado led to you instead having Pop-Tarts which were the only thing in the cupboard, then you are more likely to feel comfortable making choices at your next meals. Beat yourself up over it and it can lead to either a) a swear to never eat Pop-Tarts again which leads to you constantly thinking about Pop-Tarts or b) a hands up in the air surrender to “failing your diet” and eating until you are uncomfortable and unfulfilled the rest of the day. And here is where a plan can sometimes backfire – guilt over breaking it won’t help.


Life happens, plans change. Buildings in an earthquake-prone area are specifically designed to flex and sway as the earth beneath them shakes. When your earth shakes (whether big or small), your flexibility is what can help you through.

Naan Pizza (for one or more!)


Whether just cooking for one or wanting to make simple pizzas for many, these naan bread pizzas work great. Try swapping out or adding more vegetable (mushrooms, onions, spinach, peppers, eggplant) or different proteins (rotisserie chicken, lean ground beef).

(Serves 1)

1 whole wheat naan bread
1/4 cup pizza sauce
1/4 cup shredded reduced-fat mozzarella cheese
1 chicken sausage link
1/2 cup broccoli


1. Place the naan bread on a parchment-covered pan for the stove (or use a toaster oven). Pre-heat the oven at 400 F.
2. Top the bread with sauce, broccoli, sausage, and cheese.
3. Cook the pizza for 4-6 minutes at 400 F then broil until the desired browning has occurred on the cheese (3-5 minutes).

Pair with a salad to add more vegetables and enjoy!

Nutrition facts (per pizza): Total Calories:475; Protein: 29 grams; Fiber: 7 grams.

Thai Turkey Lettuce Wraps


(Serves 6)

1 1/2 lbs lean ground turkey
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 lime
1/4 cup orange juice
3-4 green onions, sliced
1 head of red cabbage, peeled into individual leafs
Shredded carrots
Handful fresh cilantro
1 tsp olive oil


1. Warm oil in a pan on medium heat. Add turkey and saute until cooked through.
2. While turkey is cooking, combine the peanut butter, soy sauce, orange juice, juice of 1/2 lime, and brown sugar in a bowl. Once the turkey is cooked through add the sauce to the pan and reduce heat to low.
3. To assemble the wraps, place 1-2 tbsp of turkey mixture into a lettuce leaf. Top with onions, carrots, and cilantro. Use the juice of remaining lime on top as well if desired.

Pair with a salad or stir-fried vegetables to add more veggies!

Nutrition facts (per serving without salad): Total Calories: 285; Protein: 35 grams; Fat: 12 grams; Fiber: 3 grams, Sodium: 515 mg