Winter weight gain – be a bear and bulk up

bulk like a bear

Bulk like a bear

Dark evenings are here again and with them the tendency for us to eat too much, do too little and lay down fat.

Some blame the lack of sunlight for knocking our motivation to hit the gym, others say it’s just the cold, or the change of seasons.

We say it’s hibernation and it could be your best chance to bulk up.

The science

overweight man SAD winter

Don’t be SAD this winter
Source: DCPD

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the winter blues could be linked to a form of human hibernation.

Low mood, cravings for carbohydrates, sleepiness, irritability, lack of get up and go, less appetite for sex – all are symptoms of the winter blues  – also known as SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s an autumn and winter issue that affects many people to some degree. Unlike in cases of clinical depression, people suffering from SAD eat more not less, and sleep more too. In its extreme form, SAD can be debilitating, but researchers now believe that many of us are merely experiencing a natural adjustment to low light levels. In other words, we’re hibernating.

If you’re really struggling to keep your spirits up, pay a visit to your GP, but otherwise, the advice is to get outside as much as possible, try to stay positive, tell family and friends how you’re feeling so they can support you – and exercise.

Human hibernators

But could a case of the winter blues simply be your body’s way of telling you to hibernate? In the past, when people were much more in tune with the natural world – hibernation was simply part of the yearly cycle.

In the years after the French revolution, economists went into the countryside to see what could be done to boost economic production. And what did they find in the fields? Nothing and no one. As soon as it got cold, French peasants would retire with their livestock to their houses, and stay there – doing absolutely nothing – until spring.

Later, in 1844, a government official visiting the Burgundy region reported that in winter, “These vigorous men will now spend their days in bed, packing their bodies tightly together in order to stay warm.”

In the alps, people were active for just five months of the year. When the snows came, people stayed inside and slept a lot. If someone died during the winter, they’d be stored on the roof until spring.

Russian Steppe

winter tress snow

Snowy weather = bed for half a year!
Source: Vitaliy Pakhnyushchyy

It’s a similar story on the Russian Steppe and the practise known as ‘Iotska.’ Because peasants didn’t have enough food to tide them over the winter, they solved the problem by going to sleep for six months of the year. This from the British Medical Journal of 1900:

“At the first fall of snow the whole family gathers round the stove, lies down, ceases to wrestle with the problems of human existence, and quietly goes to sleep. Once a day every one wakes up to eat a piece of hard bread, of which an amount sufficient to last six months has providently been baked in the previous autumn. When the bread has been washed down with a draught of water, everyone goes to sleep again. The members of the family take it in turn to watch and keep the fire alight.”

As the spring thaw set in, families would get up, dust themselves down and head outside to see if the grass had begun to grow.

Hit the gym


Hit up the gym to break your winter blues
Source: K Zenon

These days, much as it might appeal, sleeping away the entire winter is not an option. So how should we deal with our own winter slowdown? And how can we turn this seasonal sluggishness to our own advantage? Two words: weight gain.

At this time of year, your cravings for stodgy food can be put to good use. Hard gainers, this is a great time for you to put on some serious mass.

We’re not talking about a free for all feeding frenzy here – a healthy diet must be maintained. Make sure you combine any increase in calorie intake with heavy lifting at the gym, or you’ll end up with a spare tyre around your middle.

But when it comes to beating off your winter torpor, nothing gets you going like a good hard workout. So if you’re tempted to spend the winter ‘hibernating’ in front of the telly, get yourself to the gym; the benefits will be more than psychological.

And if you’re craving carbs? Great. As long as you don’t go crazy, have that extra roast potato, take a weight gain supplement, hit those weights. It’s bulk up time.

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