Chilly winter evenings are made for staying in and cuddling up for a quiet night – where you may find yourself craving comfort foods: ooey-gooey macaroni and cheese, creamy mashed potatoes and gravy, baked potato stew with extra sour cream, a steaming pile of meat lasagna or a thick slice of chocolate cake. Why do you crave comfort foods, especially in the winter? Read on to discover which reason is propelling your fork to the gravy bowl.
The problem with comfort foods is that although they give your spirit a dose of TLC, they deliver to your body an overload of fat and often unhealthy ingredients. While no one is proposing that you give up your favorite comfort foods, if you understand why you crave this cuisine then you can learn to recognize the signals in your body and brain that you are about to tie into a giant bowl of chili fries. Then, you can make a rational decision about whether or not to eat what you crave, rather than just giving in to emotional eating.
Warm memories for cold times: For most of us, we already knew what our favorite comfort foods were as a child, and indeed most of the popular comfort foods could be found on the kids menu at a restaurant. Eating these dishes as adults reminds us in a very concrete, tactile way of the happiness and carefree nature of childhood. We often crave comfort foods during stressful times, when we are exhausted or when we are emotionally drained – and these are situations that the holiday season delivers on cue.
If you find yourself reaching for your favorite comfort food at the end of a long and stressful day of holiday shopping, try and substitute food with another happy childhood memory: listen to silly Christmas carols, make a collage of red and green paper or go for a walk to look at twinkling holiday lights. You’ll find that what you were really craving is a bit of childhood happiness and a break from the struggles of adulthood. Eating macaroni and cheese isn’t the only way to recapture the gleeful feelings you had as a child.
Fat feels good. Fats are lipids – slippery, silky molecules that feel fantastic in the mouth. Just as a soft cashmere sweater or silk bathrobe makes you feel better, so too do these satiny fat molecules. Try a piece of non-fat cheese before eating a piece of full-fat cheese, and you will understand the effects of lipids. They give cream its creaminess, cheese its gooeyness and butter its smooth and savory appeal. When you are craving some sensual pleasure this winter, leave your mouth out of it. Instead turn up your thermostat, slip into soft fleece clothing, light some cinnamon candles, and in general try to get your sensory stimulation from something other than food.
It’s dark. During the winter, the number of daylight hours we can enjoy is very limited, particularly in northern latitudes. A lack of sunshine can make you anxious, lethargic and depressed – the perfect storm that creates a craving for comfort foods. If you find yourself wanting unhealthy meal items only at night, consider light therapy, take an extra dose of Vitamin D (consult with your doctor first) or just make an effort to get outside as much as possible during the day.