Have you noticed that as the weather cools you want to stay under your blankets for longer in the morning, binge-watch TV and movies, and eat heartier comfort foods? You’re not alone in your desire to eat higher-fat, high-carb foods during the fall and winter months, but, you may be wondering what, if anything, you can do to sidestep those cravings?
Comfort foods tend to be higher in sugar, fat, and starches, and science has shown that these nutrients can cause the brain to release feelings of pleasure or may even calm stress and anxiety.
With shorter, darker days approaching now that Daylight Saving Time ends this Sunday (turn your clocks back!), we’re here to help you better understand your cold-weather cravings as well as how to combat some of those comfort food urges.
HOW AUTUMN AND WINTER AFFECT YOUR HEALTH AND MOTIVATION
Turning the clocks back messes with your appetite.
Your body now has to wait an extra hour before meals are consumed. Most of us don’t like that hunger pang feeling and end up snacking in between meals. This becomes a pattern given the days are longer and darker. Excess calories are consumed daily and the pounds start creeping on.
You’re more likely to be lazier.
It’s more appealing to stay in your warm, bright home instead of heading out to the gym when it’s dark, windy, and cold. Being home and indoors might also make you more likely to take in extra calories.
You crave hot foods.
During the winter months, the body craves warm foods to give it instant heat, like those stews, mashed potatoes, casseroles, and soups you can’t get enough of. Consuming carbohydrates causes your insulin to spike in order to clear blood sugar, but then it crashes, leaving you searching for crackers, cookies and treats soon after. This cycle can continue until early spring, when you’re likely notice a few extra pounds are lurking if you didn’t work them off in the gym.
Darker days can affect your mood.
The change of seasons, shorter days and lack of sunlight can throw off your circadian rhythm, the body’s internal clock. This biological change affects your sleeping patterns, appetite, and sometimes making you feel lethargic, moody, or even depressed. Vitamin D deficiency from the lack of sunlight can also contribute to symptoms which may turn into seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a depressive disorder that’s linked to the change in seasons. Sometimes people who are suffering from this condition crave high-carbohydrate or sugary foods which causes the brain to release serotonin, a brain chemical that promotes feelings of happiness. (Here’s how to crush nighttime cravings.)
You’re surrounded by heavier foods at social events.
While you probably faced temptations during summer parties, holiday fare and football-watching parties you attend in the fall and winter are likely to include food spreads that are heavier, fattier, or sweeter. And since you’re bundled under thick layers of clothing for the next few months, you might be more likely to go back for second helpings than you would have at a poolside soiree.
HOW TO STAY IN CONTROL DURING COMFORT-FOOD SEASON
Eat more omega-3s!
Incorporate more omega-3 fatty acids in your diet through foods like salmon and walnuts. Theses foods are good for brain health and may help boost your mood, which is especially important in people suffering from SAD.
Lighten up your favorite comfort foods.
Keep your workout routines consistent.
Not only will regular exercise get your blood flowing and help you warm up on cold days, but you’ll burn calories and release positive endorphins, which can help combat seasonal mood disorders. (How to survive winter training)
Bake with better-for-you substitutes.
When baking sweet treats, swap oil for applesauce, pumpkin puree, or baby food. This will cut down on fat calories while adding flavor and fiber to your favorite baked goods.
Bring healthy party foods.
Arm yourself with healthy appetizers like guacamole with baked tortilla chips or chopped, fresh vegetables and hummus so you’ll have something nutritious to eat and share whether you’re watching sports games or socializing with friends at holiday parties.
Allow yourself some treats.
While you should try to eat as clean as possible for most of your meals, allow yourself the occasional seasonal indulgence so you have some meals to look forward to and prevent binging that might happen after depriving yourself for too long.
BY LINDA STEPHENS, RD