Why we crave carbs when it’s cold
And why it’s A-effing-OKAY if you eat a bagel today.
Temperatures are supposed to drop drastically in NYC this weekend. While the numbers aren’t exactly up to par with what I would experience during my college days in Chicago, reports say the wind chill should get somewhere between 5 to 10 degrees below zero. Chilly indeed.
Simultaneously, as temperatures started to drop, I found myself craving carbohydrates to no end. After yoga Friday morning, I swiped a bagel to toast up and have with my coffee at home, then ordered a croissant ham & cheese sandwich for lunch at a coffee shop. It’s usually not my MO to eat a ton of carbohydrates during the day (not because of restriction, but because I know if I go hard on the bread I feel super tired and sluggish), so the fact that I was craving a lot of carbs kind of surprised me. So I had to ask myself…is this normal?
Diet culture typically tells us that it’s all our fault for craving such foods during the day—that we’re supposed to have some kind of superhuman willpower and be happy about eating a kale salad every day. So of course, as I craved a high number of carbs, I kept telling myself no, I shouldn’t eat all of this—I should power through.
Funny how even after all of my years of extensive nutrition research and reporting that I still let that diet culture lies seep into my head.
Instead of being harsh to my body, I decided to embrace it—and do a little research. Could my body be craving carbs because the temperatures dropped? Does it have to do with my menstrual cycle? (Which does happen, FYI.) Did I not eat enough carbohydrates this week and find myself craving the energy they provide?
Sure enough, there was some research to back up how I was feeling. While there still isn’t a ton on this yet, some initial research does point to how carbohydrate intake during the winter can be linked to decreased vitamin D levels and even seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Why? Less sunlight!
I do try my best to get outside if I can, but honestly? Sometimes I don’t! During the winter months, I love to cuddle up at home and drink hot tea with a book, work on my writing cozied up under a blanket, or dance around in the kitchen making a fun recipe. I’m not prone to hang outside like I am during the other seasons of the year, so I’m going to speculate that my vitamin D levels aren’t nearly what they look like compared to the sunnier months.
Let’s take a closer look at the science: This theory was brought on by an article published in Scientific American linking carbohydrates and seasonal depression, stating that people who crave carbohydrates during the colder months tend to do so given that these foods can boost your mood (serotonin levels increase when you eat carbohydrates) and provide more energy (literally the point of eating carbohydrates in the first place).
Now keep in mind that this article is very old; it was published in 1989. As a nutrition journalist I typically only like to refer to the latest research, usually what has been published no later than 20 years.
However, it does seem that experts confirm these findings given the nature of carbohydrates and how they affect one’s mood. SAD is commonly talked about during the colder months, which can happen when a person experiences lower serotonin levels compared to normal. Sunlight helps serotonin levels as well as—yep, you knew it was coming—carbohydrates.
Now should we allow food to dictate our mood? Of course not. Breaking up with diet culture also means breaking up with the idea that we need to attach different moods to our food.
But if you do find that you are craving more carbohydrates right now, don’t sweat it; it just makes sense. Your body is smart and knows what it needs through different seasons. In the same way, you probably crave all of the bright, fresh produce in the summer—full of hydrating water to keep you cool and satisfied—your body will want the carbohydrates that give you that energy you desire when things slow down.
So…eat the bagel today.
For more reads over your morning cup of coffee, check out my latest published work!
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