Why Do We Crave Comfort Food in the Winter?

By Lizzie Streit, MS, RDN, LD 

Comfort food and winter go hand in hand, especially here in the Midwest. When temperatures drop, you may find yourself craving casseroles, stews, cheesy pastas, creamy meat and potato dishes, and of course, sweets and desserts. 

These meals tend to be high in calories and fat, and often feel more satisfying than lighter meals enjoyed in warmer months. Plus, eating indulgent, hot meals is a common way to warm up in the winter. In other words, these types of foods are simply “comforting.” 

But the real reasons behind your comfort food cravings may have to do with biology. At the same time, winter is marked by several occasions centered around food. Read on to learn more about why you crave comfort food in winter.  

Winter Weather May Increase Hunger 

Colder temperatures and less daylight may make you feel hungrier and eat more than usual, according to several theories.  

For one, weather changes may impact hormones that influence appetite and stress, leading to changes in caloric intake from season to season (1). 

Some experts also suggest that humans feel hungrier in the winter months due to an evolutionary tendency to eat more food for energy and insulation in the face of cold temperatures and harsh environmental conditions (2). 

Finally, the body may not produce as much serotonin in the winter, which can contribute to the development of seasonal depression (3). Since carbohydrates play a role in the production of serotonin in the body, people who suffer from depression in the winter may crave and overeat carb-heavy comfort foods during the colder months (5). 

Indulgent Celebrations in the Winter 

Several holidays and celebrations that center around food occur in the winter, including Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s, the Super Bowl, Valentine’s Day, and more. 

So, in addition to the biological changes that may have you craving more comfort food, there are opportunities to overeat every few weeks in the winter.  

While you shouldn’t feel that you need to restrict your food intake on holidays, it can be easy to fall into a pattern of overeating in between these special occasions.  

How to Satisfy Comfort Food Cravings in a Healthy Way 

Comfort food cravings in the winter months are common and normal, but you can satisfy them in healthy ways that won’t set you back on your health or weight loss journey. If you find yourself craving starches and sweets in the winter, try incorporating more complex carbohydrates from vegetables, whole grains, and legumes at meals.  

For example, if you are itching for some pasta, choose a whole grain variety and prepare just one cup at a time. You can bulk up the meal with non-starchy vegetables, protein, and some shredded cheese to feel more satisfied so that you don’t reach for more pasta. 

If you are craving sweets, try some frozen fruit with plain Greek yogurt or a few squares of dark chocolate. You can also add sweet potatoes or beets to your dinner meals to help curb evening cravings.  

Finally, enjoy your favorite dishes on holidays, but try not to carry over that style of eating in between celebrations. You can also bring a healthier version of your favorite foods to gatherings so that you always have something that you know you will eat. 

Note from Healthy For Life Meals: Do you find yourself overeating comfort food in the winter? Let us help you! Our meals are balanced and satisfying to help prevent comfort food cravings. And as a bonus, we serve lots of your favorite comfort foods too, but in a healthier version! Check out our menus today.

Stef Keegan