Carbohydrate Cravings as a Symptom of Depression

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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?

Carbohydrate Cravings: What’s Known?

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 craving.

But if you aren’t 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 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.”