Baking My Way to Weight Gain in Winter

When cold weather hits, I want to be in my cozy kitchen making soup, baking and otherwise producing delicious food. When a snowstorm or, more importantly, a blizzard hits, my cooking gene goes into overtime. Here in New England we have had several big snow storms, including last week’s record-setting blizzard and yesterday’s smaller, but still significant, nor’easter.

This weather is bad for my waistline.

I’m not the only one who suffers from weight gain in winter, of course. It’s a syndrome, like Seasonal Affective Disorder or the Freshman Fifteen. The days get shorter and colder, waistlines get bigger and flabbier. If you like to cook, as I do, avoiding weight gain in winter becomes even more difficult.

apple pie, home-baked apple pie

Home-baked apple pie

In the past few weeks, I have made pot roast, baked chicken, salmon pie, baked sausages with onions and mushrooms, beef pot pie, chicken soup, shrimp and corn chowder, and beef barley soup. On the sweet side, I have produced two apple pies, peanut butter cookies, oatmeal muffins, brown bread muffins, corn bread, banana bread, blondie bars, peach and grape turnovers, baking powder biscuits, and gingerbread.

I have probably forgotten something, although my waistline has not.

The Leftover Queen Gets Creative

My inner Leftover Queen comes out and gets creative. The leftover pot roast became the beef pot pie and then the beef barley soup. Leftover baked chicken turned into chicken soup, which also used some of the turkey broth that I made from Thanksgiving’s turkey carcass and then froze. Leftover roast salmon went into the salmon pie.

Having baked these goodies, though, I want to eat them. Who would turn down a piece of home-made apple pie?  Who doesn’t like peanut butter cookies? Like most cooks, I make what I like and then I eat it. My husband and my son help out, of course, so I’m not consuming all these calories myself. But, still.

oatmeal muffins and peanut butter cookies

Oatmeal muffins and peanut butter cookies

I know that some of this craving for comfort food is the body’s natural response to cold and snow. It makes us want to build up our fat reserves so we can stay warm. Baking in a cozy kitchen keeps you warm, too, as does kneading biscuit dough and mixing chopped nuts into a bowlful of sticky batter.

My Braun food processor has emerged from its pantry home to occupy counter space. Spatulas, spoons, knives, and whisks have gone through the dishwasher so many times they’re dizzy. My Kitchen Aid mixer and I have become best buddies.

Keeping the ingredients topped off has required multiple trips to the supermarket for flour, sugar, brown sugar (light and dark), butter (over five pounds since Christmas), milk, cream, sour cream, eggs (by the dozens), and even molasses. I’m getting low on flour again.

Five Reasons Why We Gain Weight

The experts say to expect weight gain in winter for a variety of reasons:

  1. Our bodies want to stay warm. This is a survival mechanism from the days when “attractively thin” could turn into “unfortunately dead” overnight. Fat equals the insulation our bodies need to survive cold winters. The colder it gets, the more fat our bodies want. I’m going to blame the Polar Vortex for my tight jeans.
  2. We’re more sedentary. I guess that’s true because my husband and I don’t have to shovel anymore and I’m sure not doing any gardening these days. But I do go to the gym almost every day. I do water aerobics three to four times a week and, on “dry days” work out on the treadmill and the upper-body weight machines. I tried a barre class last week and liked it so I’ll probably go to another one. I’m not just sitting around eating muffins. Unless it’s snowing really hard and the gym is closed.
  3. We crave comfort food. It takes a lot of discipline to eat a cold salad when your body is screaming at you to put something hot into it. And those frigid dark days make us feel depressed. That sends us looking through the cabinets for chips or thinking about mac and cheese to go with that lean piece of fish for dinner. I usually subscribe to the idea that comfort is the enemy of growth but, in this case, comfort is causing the growth of my waistline.
  4. Our metabolisms slow down. That’s a good one; I like it. It’s not my fault. Blame the shorter days and colder weather. Actually, Vitamin D is also a big reason. Here in snowy New England, we can’t make Vitamin D from sunlight between November and March because the sun is just at the wrong angle. Lack of Vitamin D triggers fat storage and inhibits fat breakdown. I take Vitamin D every day but it’s not the same. See, I didn’t mean to eat that piece of pie. The sun made me do it.
  5. Temptation is everywhere. First there’s Thanksgiving, then Christmas parties and New Year’s celebrations. Shops, offices, and markets put out free samples and treats.Candy dishes fill up with chocolate. I cook for meetings of the SpaceCrafts Writer’s Group and the January In-Home Dinners sponsored by our church, the First Parish of Sudbury. Our family also has multiple birthdays in January and February. I indulged in my birthday cupcake yesterday, although I did not bake it, and enjoyed every bite.

Think Carefully

beef barley soup

Beef barley soup

The experts advise us to think very carefully about what we eat. Well, I do that. I think very carefully about whether to make peanut butter cookies or molasses cookies, gingerbread or banana bread, apple pie or chocolate cream pie. I read recipes. I make sure I have the required ingredients. I follow the directions. That all takes a lot of thought.

The good news is that weight gain can boost our immune systems. That means a little extra weight can help me to fight off that nasty flu bug or the 2 ½-week cold that’s going around. I’ll hold on to that thought—along with a few extra pounds—until spring rolls around.

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