I just experienced my first East Coast blizzard and it was so exciting. While my dog Toaster frolicked in fresh powder and my husband tried to become a living snowman, I was on a singular mission to warm the house with an 8-hour braised pork shoulder seasoned with chilies and Mexican spices.
Of all the things that trigger cravings for comfort food, cold weather is pretty universal. Being cold is deeply uncomfortable, and our natural instinct is to want to warm ourselves both inside and out.
But while your instinct to maintain your core temperature may explain why you don’t yearn for salad and gazpacho in the dead of winter, it doesn’t condemn you to four months of pancakes and mac n’ cheese. If you understand what your brain is ultimately after, you can tend to your deepest needs without diving head first into the cookie jar.
In times of physical and emotional stress, your brain yearns for comfort and safety. Foods, particularly those that stimulate the dopamine/reward pathways in your brain (sugar, fat, salt), can feel like the perfect antidote in these conditions. And indeed, they can provide some temporary relief.
Research has shown that personally defined “comfort foods” do improve mood af…