Regardless of which holidays you celebrate during winter, you’ll eat quite a bit when the cold weather hits. Some think this cyclic stuffing conditions our bodies to crave carbs, fatty foods, and sweets during the holiday season. While it’s a reasonable assumption, it’s only a portion of the body’s scientific truth! There are other completely normal and natural reasons why we crave comfort food during the winter.
Low Temps Call for High Calories
Our ancestors had little-to-no food security. Due to this scarcity, you had to eat more high-calorie foods that would keep you full and give you energy. Naturally, our bodies do the same thing. Not only are our minds hard-wired to find and want food when it’s cold, but our bodies need the energy to keep us going through the darker days.
The colder it gets, the darker it gets, and you may have noticed that when it gets darker, we become more tired. The dark and cold winter months affect our sleep cycle, causing us to produce more melatonin while also reducing the amount of vitamin D we receive from the sun, which impacts our energy levels. All of this means we need food to give us the energy to go on with our day.
Food Boosts Your Mood
Darker days can affect your energy levels and your overall mood. In more severe cases, it can cause what’s known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Some symptoms are excess sleeping and carbohydrate cravings. A good meal can produce dopamine, and when you’re sad, it’s natural for the body to crave dopamine and, thus, food. In these cases, we do have to make sure we’re not using food as a coping mechanism, but there’s no shame in occasionally indulging in some nostalgic holiday food to boost your spirits.
Digestion Warms the Body
The digestion process involves a complex chemical reaction that releases heat within the digestive tract. Digestion can warm our bodies up to 2°F, and while this may not seem like much, it means a lot to our internal temperature. The longer it takes for our body to digest a meal, the longer we stay warm! Things like whole milk, cheese, and complex carbs take quite some time. Is it any wonder that some of our favorite holiday foods consist of bread, potatoes, and dairy?
The Bigger Picture
All this matters for two reasons. One, knowing what your body wants and why it wants it is an important and advantageous tool. For example, say you’re trying to find ways to keep yourself and your kids warm at a winter sports game. Of course, the right clothing layers are still absolutely necessary, but eating a meal of complex carbs before the game, like oatmeal, can keep your body temperature high while you’re braving the cold.
The second reason is that knowing why we crave comfort food during the winter can help us feel less guilty about what we eat. There’s a lot of food guilt surrounding the holidays for some, but you shouldn’t feel ashamed about eating that extra slice of pumpkin pie. The occasional extra indulgence won’t hurt your health or happiness, and those are the things that matter most.