Comfort Foods: Get Ready for the Winter!


IMG_3774There is nothing like the first real big snowfall to get you thinking about hibernating in your comfy home, catching up on TV shows you’ve missed, and munching all day long!  With 6 months of this weather ahead of us, staying active and eating well may be a challenge.

Seeking Comfort through Food

Apparently, it is physiologically and psychologically natural for us to want to eat more fat and carbohydrate-rich foods and to be less active during cold, dark days.  These factors are closely connected.

From a physiological perspective, some experts believe that the cold weather causes our body temperature to lower and as a result we seek foods that will warm us up and provide the energy we need physically.  Other researchers suggest that stress, anxiety, and depression are major factors in raising our cortisol levels which lead to cravings for comfort foods.

With less daylight hours, lack of exposure to light can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which influences our moods.  To seek relief, many who suffer from SAD crave carbohydrate-rich foods.  The consumption of these foods can increase serotonin levels and help balance the natural hormone melatonin.

Psychologically, we can also attach memories and emotions to the foods we consume.  Do you remember what your mother made for you when you were sick and how it made you feel?  That memory can lead you to crave that food when you’re in the same mood today.  Many of us also reward ourselves with foods based on how we’re feeling or the context of our activity.  For example, how can anyone watch a movie without eating popcorn!

Adding another layer of complexity to understanding our need for comfort foods, a 2003 study by Wansick et al, showed that age and gender influence the kinds of comfort foods craved.  Women tend to crave more snack-type food like chocolate and ice cream, while men reach for more hearty, warm foods like steak and casseroles.  Like women, younger people tend to prefer snack foods, but adults 55 and older reported craving heartier meals. ((http://www.mindlesseating.org/pdf/downloads/ComfortFood-P%26B_2003.pdf)

Avoiding Weight Gain 

IMG_3779Regardless of what you crave during those cold, winter months, giving into those cravings can lead to weight gain, especially since one’s physical activity seems to drop during winter months.  Some common factors for the inactivity include:

  • Shorter daylight hours and colder temperatures making it difficult to exercise outside;
  • Busy holiday schedules emphasizing eating and drinking;
  • Bad weather and road conditions making it difficult to get to the gym;
  • Just plain desire to stay home under a warm blanket!

These are good reasons occasionally, but not all winter!  Exercise helps to increase serotonin levels so it will help curb your cravings.

Here are a few ideas to keep eating well and staying active:

Reinvent or lighten up your top comfort foods. Pay attention to the foods you crave when you’re feeling blue or when you reward yourself.  Try to make those foods healthier.  For example, if you like starchy, savory foods like potato chips, then switch these out for healthier crunchy foods like roasted chickpeas (http://www.chow.com/recipes/30368-spicy-oven-roasted-chickpeas) or carrots, jicama and dip.  Creamed soups can be lightened up by using yogurt or beans instead of cream.  To satisfy your sweet tooth, try a small piece of dark chocolate (70% cacao), instead of milk chocolate.  Alternatively, dip fresh fruit in melted dark chocolate.  Watch the portion sizes!

Keep fridge and pantry stocked with ‘good’ comfort food.  The less junk food you have in the house, the less of it you’ll eat!  Buy more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.  We need a good balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats in our diets to stay healthy.  Choose better quality of these nutrients, like whole grain brown rice instead of white rice, or carrots instead of crackers.

IMG_2133Find a winter physical activity to enjoy.  Skiing, snowshoeing, and skating are some activities you could consider.  Okay, this might be a stretch for some of you!  If you dress appropriately for outdoor temperatures, a walk in the crisp air during a sunny day can be invigorating and keep you away from your fridge.

Find a friend to join you for activities.  Making a date with a friend to go to the gym or for a walk may help you stay active.  Getting out the door is easier when you have committed to meet someone.  Also, the activity is more enjoyable when sharing it with a good friend!

Brake the cycle.  Be aware of your moods and your reactions to those moods, then make a “contingency list” for those times.  What will you do differently when experiencing that mood?  For example, when feeling blue if you tend to reach for the cookie jar, your contingency list might be to pick out one cookie and put the rest in the freezer, or distract yourself by calling a friend, or going for a walk.  The contingency list is personal and needs to be relevant to what will help you change your response to an event, mood, or particular situation.

Comfort foods play a role in our physiological and psychological wellbeing.  Be sure to nourish your body with good comfort foods and limit your intake of foods that add calories without much nutrition.

References:

Recipe of the Week:  Apple Cran-Blueberry Crisp

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About aspireperspirenourish

We are sisters who share a passion for healthy living! Each of us brings different knowledge and skills to this project, some similar experiences and a whole lot of shared passion for mindful, fit and nutritious living. This blog is our way of spreading our knowledge and passion about motivation, fitness and nutrition for everyday living. It is also our forum for finding like-minded people from whom we can learn. To learn more about us, please see our "About" page.
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5 Responses to Comfort Foods: Get Ready for the Winter!

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