Fall Into Healthy Eating Habits

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Fall, such a beautiful time of year. The leaves change, the weather cools, dark comes early, and we start eating more. During the fall, people tend to increase their caloric consumption, especially from carbohydrates, through increased meal size and a greater rate of eating. Aside from family get-togethers that may result in loosening the belt or unbuttoning the jeans. Daily caloric intake adds an additional 200 calories per day during the fall, which can equal to as much as three to four pounds of weight gain per year. The weight gain blame isn’t just due to the holidays, there are other causes that contribute to the extra pounds.

Why do we eat more? When considering our biological history, adding on weight was part of the preparation for the winter famine our ancestors faced. Eating when food is in abundance is a natural, historic tendency, because our next meal was undetermined.

Many people also face SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder, a mood disorder caused by lack of light. Several studies have found patients with SAD may eat more carbohydrates due to their depressive state during winter. However, this scenario only applies to those with the disorder.

Other reasons to consider why we may eat more could simply be hiding excess calories beneath our winter clothes. Whatever the reason, we need to remember the abundance of delicious fall foods that are available during this season. Soups, stews, sweet potatoes, fall squash varieties, apples, pumpkins and all types of greens are available to us during this season. These foods can actually be healthier for us than foods of other seasons, so take advantage of them. These beautifully colored foods are packed with great nutrients like fiber, beta carotene, and vitamin C. Here are a few tasty tips to stay healthy this fall:

  • Soups are the perfect meal to warm you up when the air starts to get cool. They can be great for you if they’re not made with cream or cheese. Try adding a variety of vegetables and beans or legumes to your soups. Just watch serving sizes–we tend to eat whatever’s in our bowls.
  • Stews can be loaded with nutrients if containing an abundance of fresh vegetables. However, they can also be hearty and fattening. Try to go light on the meat and potatoes.
  • Avoid unconscious eating while watching football and the new fall TV lineup. Never bring the whole bag or bowl of anything to the couch or coffee table–pre-measure it in the kitchen beforehand. When it comes to chips, make sure they’re baked, not fried, or choose whole grain crackers instead like Wheat Thins.
  • For pizza, try making your own at home. It takes half the time and can also contain less butter that’s typically added to the crust. If you choose to have delivery or take-out, opt for vegetable toppings and less meat. Pizza toppings can double the calories.
  • Celebrate the fall harvest in other ways besides making pies. Apples are low in calories when they’re off the tree, not in a pie. If pie is your tradition, try a healthier pie recipe and only eat one piece.
  • Get out and enjoy the fall weather. The air is cooler, the leaves are turning and the countryside becomes more scenic. It’s the perfect time to go outdoors and do something: Take a walk, a bike ride, or do some yard work.
  • Keep in mind that once we set the clocks back, it gets darker earlier, so there are fewer outdoor options for physical activities in the evening. Make adjustments by joining a gym, planning walks in the mornings or during your lunch hour, or try an exercise video at home.

***This information was adapted from Mekenzie Riley, MS, RD from University of Illinois Extensio