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Craving Carbs in Winter: Is It Depression?

What’s normal, what’s not?

Carbohydrate Cravings: The Brownie Fan

Consider the carbohydrate craver once counseled by Wurtman, whose cravings were clearly out of control.

In the summer, the woman worked in an office all day and regularly walked for exercise after work. But as soon as the days grew shorter and the temperature dropped, the women told Wurtman she would go home and hole up, too tired to go anywhere.

One evening, feeling more depressed than usual, she got a craving for a brownie from her favorite bakery, four blocks away. She bundled up and walked to the bakery to get some brownies.

"I have to have those brownies," she told Wurtman. 

She would buy them many times a week during the winter, Wurtman recalls. "She was driven to go out in the cold, icy wind to get the brownie. That's the nature of the craving."

And that is the type of craving linked with seasonal depression, she says.

Carbohydrate Cravings: Healthier Comfort

If you've decided your carbohydrate cravings are out of control and you may be depressed, experts suggest seeking help from your physician or therapist.

On your own, you can also gain some control over the carbohydrate cravings. Here's how:

  • Time your eating to accommodate your cravings. Experts agree the carb cravings grow stronger as the day goes on. So eat as healthfully as possible at breakfast and lunch, focusing on protein-rich foods, Wurtman says.  "In the afternoon, by the time the sun and your mood start sinking, have a carb snack -- popcorn or breakfast cereal -- around 4 p.m." Then for dinner, choose pasta, rice, or waffles.   
  • Focus on carbs that are "slow foods." One of Tribole's favorites:  hot chocolate. "You get carbs in the milk and the sweetened chocolate," she says. "It's hard to guzzle hot chocolate, so you are going to savor it."
  • Turn to carb-rich stews. Try soups and stews with plenty of carbs, such as potatoes, in the winter, Tribole says.  Besides filling you up and satisfying the carb craving, it can help when you don't feel like cooking.  "Cook the stews once on the weekend," Tribole says, suggesting a big pot full, "and you've got meals the rest of the week."
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Reviewed on October 19, 2008

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