Scales tipped against us in holiday weight battle


At this time of year, the eternal quest to keep from gaining weight is on many people’s minds (or at least it is on my mind, and I am extrapolating from there).

And so it is disheartening to bring news of a study about weight gain, exercise, and the holidays by Texas Tech University and published in September in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

But first a bit of background information. As I understood it, there was a direct relationship between calories consumed and weight. If you ate, say, 300 calories one day above the amount of calories you need to consume to maintain a steady weight, you would somehow have to work off 300 calories, or eat 300 fewer calories over the next few days, to keep your weight absolutely steady.

This is just an example, of course. Three hundred calories here or there is not going to make a noticeable difference; though if we are talking about strict scientific measurement, it would. Or to use the example provided by the Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, which wrote about the study, if you eat five Christmas cookies at 100 calories per cookie, that is 500 calories you would have to work off.

If you weigh 160 pounds, you would have to do an extra hour of high-impact aerobics or walk at a moderate-to-brisk pace for nearly two hours just to work off those cookies alone.

And then came the study. The good folks at Texas Tech looked at 148 people during the holiday season, mid-November to early January. Half of the group said they regularly exercise nearly five hours a week. The other half admitted to exercising approximately zero hours per week.

The men in the study gained an average of two pounds over the holidays. The women gained an average of one pound. And while people of both sexes who were obese tended to gain more weight than the others, the amount the participants exercised did not seem to make a difference in the amount of weight they gained.

One possible reason proposed, I believe, by the folks at OSU, is that the people who exercised knew that they were exercising, so they felt free to eat more goodies.

Even so, exercise is a great idea. Another study, this one published in November in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, examined 3,500 people in the eight years between 2002-03 and 2010-11. The participants had an average age of 64, and reported their level of physical activity back to the scientists every two years.

The researchers discovered that those people who engaged in moderate or vigorous physical activity at least once a week were three to four times more likely to remain healthy.

So there. Exercise if you can. It will make a difference.


A recent e-mail from a reader posed a fascinating question: Why is it that when he gets eggs in a foreign country — he has made several mission trips to Haiti — they do not have to be refrigerated? In fact, there is no refrigeration available when they are on site, so the eggs are kept out in the open for the five days or so they are there. Meanwhile, when they buy eggs in the United States, they are told they must be kept refrigerated.

My spectacularly well-researched (I used the Internet!) response to him was:

“Here’s the deal: Eggs, of course, do spoil. That’s where rotten eggs come from. But they spoil at a slower rate than, say, dairy products. If they are fresh, which is probably how you get them in Port au Prince, they can be kept safely for several days without refrigeration (if one smells rotten when you crack it, of course, you should throw it away). If you use them all in the five days you’re there, that should be fine.

“However, in America, the eggs you buy in a grocery store are probably already at least a week or two old before you get them — that is done intentionally, because very fresh eggs can be difficult to boil. They have been refrigerated the whole time, of course, at least since they were first collected and boxed. So it would be a bad idea to leave eggs out for a considerable length of time that you bought at an American store. They can safely be brought to room temperature before you cook with them; that is particularly advantageous in baking.”

A sticky mess

I simply refuse to allow another National Maple Syrup Day come and go without making note of it. I have been remiss in my noting the passage of National Maple Syrup Days, and the time has come to atone.

This very Tuesday, Dec. 17, marks National Syrup Day for the year 2013. They don’t call this the holiday season for nothing, you know. Christmas is well and good for what it is, but National Syrup Day is where it’s at.

And what should you do for this year’s NSD? I recommend a plate of fried chicken and waffles, which I had for the first time just a couple of weeks ago (I know, I know. It’s hard to believe I ever lived in the South). The maple syrup ties it all together in a way that is quite… superb.

Good luck, farewell, and amen

As some of you may know, this is my last column for The Blade. I have taken a job as food writer at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where I will begin later this week.

I have had an absolute blast here for the last few years, made all the better by my many friendly interactions with you, the readers.

You guys are the best.

Items for Morsels may be submitted up to two weeks before an event to