Pot of soup and bacon winter comfort foods

5 Reasons Behind Our Comfort Food Cravings During Winter

As the days shorten and temps start dropping, we settle in for the winter holidays and lots of foods we wouldn’t otherwise eat. Even after cramming our faces with ham, turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pies galore, we continue to eat comfort foods until the seasons change once again. Why do we crave comfort food during winter? Several reasons. 

What Are Comfort Foods?

While comfort foods can mean something different to each person, they tend to be foods prepared in traditional style (aka homemade) that are often high in fat, sugar, and calories, with a nostalgic or sentimental appeal like mashed potatoes, pasta, and sweets. These foods can bring about an emotional response or stress relief and an expanding waistline. 

Reasons Behind Comfort Food Cravings

It’s not just you hitting up comfort foods during winter. People reach for comfort foods for a host of reasons beyond mere hunger, such as:

  • Food-centered seasonal holidays, celebrations, and sporting events play a role in how we fill out plates. 
  • Changes in hormones and neurotransmitters like serotonin can occur in individuals due to a lack of sunlight and exercise during winter.
  • Seasonality of foods in the colder months often limits healthier choices.
  • Dehydration can cause you to reach for food instead of fluids. 
  • Foods provide us with warmth. 

Cold Weather Recipes

If you’re wanting recipes for winter, go with things like soups, stews, or lean meats like chicken and fish. When you select comfort food, try tweaking the recipe a bit. For example, if you‘re craving french fries, bake them instead, or change out the butter and cream for non-fat milk and olive oil in mashed potatoes. Even southern favorites like chili can get a healthy upgrade by using shredded chicken or sweet potatoes as the base. Adding spices like cayenne, ginger, and turmeric to seasonal dishes can boost your immune system, which takes a hit during the colder/darker winter months. 

How to Curb Comfort Food Cravings

In addition to changing up your recipes, we have a few tips that may help you can lighten up your dinner plate and trim your waistline before the longer, sunnier days return:

  • Get out into the sun. We know the sun‘s appearance can be few and far between during the winter, but taking the opportunity when it does come out can help increase ‘happy’ chemicals serotonin and dopamine, lessening the desire for comfort foods.
  • Exercise. It’s easy to curl up on the couch with some cocoa, waiting out the colder months. However, moving your body, even walking laps around your living room, can increase those same happy chemicals you create when out in the sun, further enhancing your mood and decreasing those food cravings.
  • Eat more veggies. Yes, we crave carbs and sweets during winter, but that doesn’t mean you should forgo vegetables. While fresh is best, you may not find many options in your produce section. Don’t worry; frozen can work in a pinch.  
  • Stay hydrated. Regardless of the season, consuming plenty of fluids like water, soups, broths, and high-water content fruits and veggies including tomatoes, zucchini, celery, bell peppers, oranges, and strawberries can help curb food cravings.