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Stay lean in the fat season

The DIY diet ... Michael Pollan recommends baking your own sweets.

The DIY diet ... Michael Pollan recommends baking your own sweets.

It's a safe bet that in September the glossies will break out their bikini body weight loss plans and there'll be a rash of fresh diet books on sale. But all that's to come. Right now, the universe is conspiring to fatten you up. There are recipes for self-saucing pudding and pot pies in the magazines and the catalogue that slipped out of my local paper features a fleecy blanket specially designed for couch hugging. It's got sleeves and a little pocket for keeping the remote control close by. Meanwhile a press release from a cake company is offering helpful advice for coping with bad  weather – toast some banana bread, spread with melting butter and enjoy next to a cosy fire with a cup of tea.

Cosying up might be winter's big selling point but I'm going out on a limb to suggest another approach – grit your teeth and get out  more instead. It's a whole lot easier to prevent putting on weight in the first place  than it is to peel it off later. Gaining a couple of kilos over winter is no big deal but if it's an annual event it turns into middle age spread.

"Gaining a couple of kilos over winter is no big deal - but if it's an annual event it turns into middle age spread." 

There are also advantages to walking, cycling or jogging when the temperature drops – it warms you up so you can turn down the heat once you're back inside. Then there's the immune boosting effects of regular (but not too intense) exercise. One theory is that exercise keeps the body's defence cells circulating more rapidly around the body, another is that physical activity helps flush bacteria out of the lungs.

Will working out in the cold also help burn more kilojoules from the self-saucing pud? Maybe, but don't count on it yet. Although Canadian research suggests that exposure to cold activates a type of body fat called brown fat that burns extra kilojoules to generate heat, it's not clear how useful this is for weight control.

But even if bad weather does keep you indoors it doesn't have to stop you moving. It's easy to sit around more in winter (especially if you're cocooned in a blanket on the couch). But sitting for long periods may have unwelcome effects that can raise the risk of heart disease and increase levels of blood sugar.

It's not just that you're burning fewer kilojoules but that too much sitting reduces muscle contractions and this can cause blood sugar levels to rise, according to the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute. Moving around or even just standing, on the other hand, makes muscles contract and use up blood sugar for fuel, helping to keep the levels healthy. Prolonged sitting is also linked to higher levels of blood fats called triglycerides. These are good reasons to find excuses to move or stand when you're housebound, especially if your job keeps you anchored to a chair.

Craving comfort food is normal when the temperature drops but there's solace in foods that aren't overloaded with kilojoules. Big soups - like the beetroot and cabbage version below – with lots of veg and/or legumes tick the boxes for flavour, filling power, fibre and nutrients.  The same goes for roast or mashed veg. Roasting warms the kitchen and coaxes the sweetness out of vegetables all at the same time. Just toss your veg of choice – chopped pumpkin, onion, cauliflower flowerettes, whole baby carrots, zucchini, sweet potato or whole mushrooms - with olive oil, garlic and dukkah and bake – or mash a mix of zucchini, carrot and sweet potato with garlic, onion, chilli  and olive oil.

And if you long for something sweet, you could stand in the kitchen and bake it yourself. As American food writer Michael Pollan once said, it's outsourcing the making of treats to the food industry that's made it easy to eat so many.

Beetroot, cabbage and dill soup


6 large beetroot, scrubbed, and roughly chopped

2  chopped onions

6 cloves garlic, crushed

Chopped fresh chilli to taste

3 cups roughly chopped cabbage (I used wombok)

5 cups stock

Fresh dill

Plain yoghurt

Pepper or paprika

Cook the onions, chilli and garlic in olive oil in a large saucepan until soft then add the chopped beetroot and water and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for about 30 mins or until the beetroot is soft. Buzz 2/3 of the soup in a food processor and return to the saucepan with the chopped cabbage and a large handful of dill and simmer for a few more minutes until the cabbage is soft. If you want a soup with a thinner consistency add more stock or water. Add lots of pepper or paprika and a little salt and more dill if you need it. Serve with a tablespoon or two of yoghut on top.

Serves about six people. Good with sourdough or dark rye bread and a green salad with a little crumbled reduced fat fetta and/or crushed pecans.

How do you prevent winter kilo creep?

18 comments so far

  • I cook pretty much all we eat at home. That way, I can control better the fattening ingredients and portions size. As the cold weather is not much of an invitation for exercising outdoors, we at least, go shopping for groceries by foot.

    Fernanda Rodrigues
    Katoomba, Blue Mountains
    Date and time
    June 27, 2012, 10:34AM
    • Follow a Paleo diet: fresh greens, fruit, veg and lots of protein. Eat nuts. Make soups, and tea with honey. And yes, I make my own deserts in my thermomix.

      Date and time
      June 27, 2012, 10:47AM
      • I agree except that using honey instead of sugar makes absolutely no difference to the intake of simple sugars.

        Sweety Pie
        Date and time
        June 27, 2012, 11:30AM
      • Paleo diet is totally the way to go. Eat what your body is designed to eat and you won't have to worry about body fat; it will take care of itself. I cooked up a massive paleo spag bol as well as a paleo red curry yesterday; Miche123 you're going to have to hook me up with the desserts though ;)

        Date and time
        June 27, 2012, 11:36AM
    • Sweety Pie: yes both honey and sugar will result in an increase in blood sugar and the associated insulin spike, but a big part of the paleo diet is about getting food as close to its natural state as possible. Keeping that in mind, honey is more preferrable over the processed sugar (honey is easy to digest, better for your gut and contains small amounts of vitamins and minerals) but even honey is still in the "sometimes" food category. For use in tea, you could try other sweetners like agave syrup. For cooking you could use a sugar substitute like xylitol (won't result in the insulin spike).

      Date and time
      June 27, 2012, 11:57AM
      • If you have a problem with fructose, honey isn't a goer even though it's natural. I love it but it makes me very sick. The same applies to many of the polyols such as xylitol, mannitol and sorbitol. Agave is fructose, so is Stevia so be careful if you're a person who bloats from apples and pears, onions and can't work out what is going on.

        Honey Lover
        Date and time
        June 27, 2012, 2:42PM
    • @Sweety Pie. I've found that raw honey as my only sweetener (apart from a little dry fruit, some agave and coconut water) still enables me to live without sugar--also known as white death--while maintaining a Paleo diet. Loosing a few kilos was a by-product of this too! So for me, raw organic honey works.

      Date and time
      June 27, 2012, 11:59AM
      • @MattofSyd: Natural sugar fix Paleo Ice-cream: Freeze a tray of coconut cream, making ice cubes of the stuff; break up one banana and freeze also; throw into a blender (or thermomix) with four fresh dates (minus pips); nine almonds; and a tablespoon of agave syrup. Enjoy!

        Balls: dates, almonds (or cashews), and a little coconut oil into a blender (thermomix). Pulse, roll up into balls and roll in coconut. Try not to eat them all in one go!

        Date and time
        June 27, 2012, 12:08PM
        • I love that this has turned into a Paleo chat!

          Date and time
          June 28, 2012, 9:31AM
      • As an expat living in Thailand for many years now - you learn to redefine fast food. Vegetables are readily available and rarely are they more than warmed - so are virtually fresh. I am not sure about the Paleo diet - but eating lots of fresh or par-cooked greens has an interesting side effect - bloating and *reddening cheeks* gas! Does anyone else experience this? and does it get any better (I find it happens every meal where I eat lots of greens)! Still!
        Thailand is being invaded now by much of the food we have readily available in Aus....breads, cakes and pastries and western style fast foods....and people here are getting a taste for it big obesity is growing. I rarely eat western style fast foods and only eat the older style grain and dark breads; and by eating mostly simple Thai dishes, I have found that my weight has remained stable! BUT if I ever get into eating white breads or shop made cakes and pastries - up goes the body fat! Therefore I can only conclude that most flours and the added sugars are pretty big contributors to weight gain!
        We dont really have a winter here in bkk (though it does get much colder in the latitudes north of bkk). Mind you I am now in a jumper as soon as the temp gets much below 30C :)) Its funny how our bodies change to adapt to different temps and humidity :)

        Date and time
        June 27, 2012, 1:04PM

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