This is why you are self-medicating with mac 'n' cheese and cookies right now
November 2nd, 2012
11:30 AM ET
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Editor's note: Dr. Melina Jampolis, CNN's diet and fitness expert, is a physician, nutrition specialist and the author of "The Calendar Diet: A Month by Month Guide to Losing Weight While Living Your Life."

Q: Why do we crave comfort foods when the weather turns cold? And are there healthy substitutes?

A: This is an interesting question and one to which there is no simple answer.

There is considerable research showing seasonal affective disorder (SAD) - which affects 1% to 3% of the population - is linked to increased appetite and carbohydrate cravings, which are probably consumed in the form of "comfort foods." This is likely due to changes in brain chemistry brought about by the change in seasons and alterations in circadian rhythm, the body's biological clock.

Those who may not be clinically diagnosed with SAD may experience mild depression or worsening mood during colder, less sun-filled days due to more moderate changes in brain chemistry. Some studies suggest an association between vitamin D deficiency (common in winter months when sun exposure is limited in most of the country) and mood, so this may play a role.

People may also be less active and less social in the winter, which could increase anxiety and depression and lead to stress eating and overconsumption.

Comfort foods are generally sweet, fatty and calorie-dense, which may help temporarily improve mood and alleviate anxiety or stress. In other words, many people may be self-medicating with these dishes.

Read - Why do I crave comfort foods now?



soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Lolita Putty

    Once regarded skeptically by the experts, seasonal affective disorder, SAD for short, is now well established. Epidemiological studies estimate that its prevalence in the adult population ranges from 1.4 percent (Florida) to 9.7 percent (New Hampshire). Researchers have noted a similarity between SAD symptoms and seasonal changes in other mammals, particularly those that sensibly pass the dark winter hibernating in a warm hole. Animals have brain circuits that sense day length and control the timing of seasonal behavior...^^*

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    July 3, 2013 at 4:34 am | Reply
  2. Chu Rosher

    With the arrival of the cold season, besides cold-driven nuisance, some persons experience drawbacks regarding the general state, lack of energy and depression of unknown origin. It was scientifically ascertained that the lack of light favors the production of melatonin by the pineal gland, a hormone inducing sleep. That is why, during the cold seasons when days are shorter and the sunlight is scarce, we often feel sleepy or drowsy. Also, even during spring and summer, if the tendency is to keep most of the time indoors at home or at the office, the effect may be similar, though not as severe."

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    February 6, 2013 at 4:07 am | Reply
  3. drew

    Speak for yourself, mindless bible thumper. Your god is not my god, and this country was founded on RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, so don't try and push your religious agenda on us by voting in a silverspoon fed religious sect following punk.

    Oh and by the way, why are you commenting on that in this forum about food?

    November 5, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Reply
  4. Noxious Sunshine

    I try to eat healthy no matter what time of the year. Sure I love creamy soups (pumpkin, potato, tomato bisque, etc) and heavier pasta dishes, but I limit those to maybe once every 2 weeks.. Or well. Soups on the other hand. I make a huge stock pot of it and then pre-portion what we doin't eat into freezer bags. for easy storage.

    Comfort-food-wise that somewhat healthy and delish – Rachael Ray makes an awesome Turkey Chili Shepherd's Pie with a Sweet Potato Topper (google it, I guess. I have the cookbook on my Kindle w the recipe). It's amazing!

    I mostly stick to dark leafy greens, lots of veggies, and a healthy supply of various liquors to get me through the cold winter months lol

    November 2, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Reply
    • M T Nest

      Rachael Ray has so many good recipes. I received her mag for the last 2 yrs & I still haven't tried all of them...yet. :)

      November 2, 2012 at 8:23 pm | Reply

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