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.
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
"Gaining a couple of kilos over winter is no big deal - but if it's an annual event it turns into middle age spread."
6 cloves garlic, crushed
Chopped fresh chilli to taste
3 cups roughly chopped cabbage (I used wombok)
5 cups stock
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?