There is considerable research showing seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – which affects 1% – 3% of the population – is linked to an increased appetite and carbohydrate cravings, which are probably consumed in the form of “comfort foods”. This is also likely due to changes in brain chemistry brought about by the change in seasons and alterations in the body’s biological clock.
This condition is characterised by increased anxiety, oversleeping, lethargy, and problems concentrating. Since comfort foods are generally high in fat and carbs, they can increase serotonin production and thus feelings of wellbeing, making them a natural pick for anyone feeling low
Those who may not be clinically diagnosed with SAD may experience worsening mood during less sun-filled days, due to more moderate changes in brain chemistry. Some studies even suggest an association between vitamin D deficiency (common in winter months when sun exposure is limited in most of the country), so this may play a role.
Alternatively, you could be craving comfort moods because:
- You’re not exercising as much – we tent to be less active in winter. Even if you’re going to the gym as often as what you were in summer, most of us are less engaged in lifestyle fitness activities such as walking, bike riding and swimming due to the chill-factor. This decrease in physical activity can lead to an increase in anxiety which can also cause us to overeat. Exercise helps to suppress our appetite, leading us to feel hungrier in the cooler months.
- You’re craving something warm – its normal to crave warmer foods when you’re feeling the freeze (which is why hearty soups and hot meals seem much more appealing than a cold salad or piece of fruit). These hot meals can be higher in calories, fat and carbohydrates than the foods we would enjoy on a warm summer day.
For help or further information, please call:
beyondblue – 1300 224 636
Lifeline – 13 11 13
New Zealand Lifeline – 0900 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 (within Auckland)
Healthline – 0800 611 116