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Why Cold Weather Brings on Comfort Food Cravings

Food cravings are extremely common and spike during certain situations and certain times of year. When temperatures begin to fall, experts say that our appetites tend to spin out of control. And it’s not just the holidays that take us off a healthy track, there are a number of factors in play.

Low temps cause high-calorie cravings
"As soon as temperatures drop, our appetite goes up for high-calorie, high-carbohydrate foodsstews, mashed potatoes, mac and cheesethe dishes that make us feel warm and cozy," says Barrie Wolf-Radbill MS, RD, a nutritionist with the New York University Program for Surgical Weight Loss. When your body temperature drops, you tend to long for foods that will warm you up quickly. And unfortunately that’s not always carrot sticks and hummus.

Caving into cravings starts a vicious cycle
When we give into those cravings for high-calorie, sugary or starchy foods our blood sugar spikes and then falls, setting up a cycle that keeps appetite in motion. We tend not to think of salads or fresh fruits and vegetables as winter eating partly because they’re less abundant and partly because we associate winter with richer, heavier meals. So when your brain signals that it needs to be warmed up, we think about warm foods like mac and cheese, stews and more.

Holidays put high-calorie foods front and center
The holidays are a wonderful opportunity to celebrate with friends and family, but they also tend to put high-calorie foods right in front of our faces at every turn. Putting a healthy twist on your traditional favorites might be able to counteract this factor.

Darker days are hard for healthy diets
If it’s not the falling temps that get you it might be the decrease in sunlight. A significant percentage of the population suffers from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which can mean they have lower blood levels of serotonin. Carbohydrate-rich foods give us a serotonin rush to help combat that.

It’s not all doom and gloom
Despite these factors that feel like they are working against us, we can still take control. Here are a few suggestions to stay on track with healthy eating and activity:

  • Keep healthy snacks around
  • Make a winter activity plan
  • Create low-calorie versions of comfort foods
  • Get a daily dose of sunlight

If you’re looking to learn how to eat better this winter, or just in general, nutritional counseling services, where you can speak with a registered dietician, are available via telehealth.