If winter weather triggers carbohydrate cravings, you're not alone.
Many people snack more on carbohydrate-containing foods in winter,
sometimes in an unconscious effort to boost their mood, says Judith Wurtman,
PhD, a former scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and
co-author of The Serotonin PowerDiet.
How can you tell if your seasonal carbohydrate cravings are in the normal
range or a possible symptom of winter depression?
Back pain and muscle spasms -- we've all experienced these symptoms from time to time. Lower back pain often comes from sitting at the computer too long. Many people have strained muscles along the spine from lifting a heavy object. But when the aches and spasms are vague -- and not related to any injury -- they may be symptoms of depression or other medical conditions. It's important to see a doctor for a medical evaluation to determine the cause.
When we're depressed, we may be more sensitive...
If you're on a weight loss diet that emphasizes boosting protein and cutting
down extremely on carbohydrates, that might explain your craving, whatever the
season, says Evelyn Tribole, RD, a dietitian in Newport Beach, Ca., and author
of Healthy Homestyle Cooking.
She's seen this kind of carbohydrate craving in dieters she counsels.
"It's a survival mechanism," she says. "You don't want to kill for
a piece of broccoli, but you'd kill for a piece of bread." It's a clear
signal, she says, that your body needs more carbs and not an abnormal
But if you aren't dieting and find yourself eating more carbs once the
weather turns chilly, that's a common habit in those with seasonal affective
disorder, or SAD, sometimes called the "winter blues," Wurtman tells
With her husband, MIT professor Richard J. Wurtman, Judith Wurtman has long
researched carbohydrates and their link to depression. The Wurtmans published a
landmark article about it in Scientific American in 1989 and numerous
others in medical journals since then.
What they have found:
These "carbohydrate cravers" can eat an additional 800 or more
calories a day. While many carb cravers are overweight or obese, others may
control their weight by exercising more, eating less at meals, or turning to
low-fat carbohydrate foods such as popcorn without butter.
Carbohydrate cravers seem to unconsciously turn to the high-carb foods to
boost mood. In another study, the Wurtmans found that carbohydrate cravers
reported being less depressed after eating high-carb snack foods, while
non-carb-cravers said they felt sleepy after eating them.
When carb cravers eat the high-carb food, they feel better in about 20
minutes, Wurtman tells WebMD. That's because when you eat carbohydrates, you
make more serotonin, the "feel-good" hormone that is also boosted when
you are on an antidepressant."It's our attempt to undo the depression,"