Comfort food: Curbing the winter cravings

Most of us eat more and crave different foods in winter, says new research – but should we really change our diets when the thermometer dips?

It’s raining cats and dogs, the wind is howling and all you want to do is cuddle up on the couch with hot chips, dark chocolate and a glass of red wine.

Sound familiar?

A new study says two million of us us believe we’re justified in consuming extra calories in the colder weather, thinking our body burns them off trying to stay warm.

The research by Australian Beef found 70 per cent of Aussies change their diet after summer by choosing richer foods (28 per cent), bigger servings (23 per cent) and more binge moments (17 per cent).

Why we eat more in winter

“The winter months are notorious for weight gain – comfort eating, staying at home more and heavy foods are just a few of the reasons we pack on the kilos during winter,” dietitian Susie Burrell tells The House of Wellness TV team.

You could also be one of the 35 per cent of Australians who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

On shorter, darker days we get less exposure to the sun, which can lead to a drop in mood-lifting hormone serotonin. This in turn can lead to depression and food cravings.

Do we need more calories in winter?

Jaime’s top tips for beating winter cravings:
• Get a good dose of protein to give you energy
• Limit refined sugars and carbohydrates
• Get moving and active, especially outdoors for some sunshine

Despite many of us turning to warmer, carb-heavy food in winter, dietitian and nutritionist Jaime Rose Chambers warns that over consumption can have a negative impact.

“There’s no biological reason to eat more when it’s cold,” Jaime Rose says.

She says while stodgy food and sweet treats may seem like the answer to winter cravings, our bodies and minds actually hunger for nutritious foods.

“We tend to go for more takeaway options or delivery services, rather than venturing out to pick up ingredients ourselves,” she says.

“There are plenty of easy-to-make, nutrient-rich recipes that still give you that comforting, homely feeling.”

How to curb the winter cravings

Susie says instead of using food for comfort, we should see winter as a time to focus on weight loss.

“Don’t give yourself permission to eat these just because it’s winter,” she stresses.

“Limit food like puddings, fried pub meals, pastry based fare and comfort food like chocolate.

“And utilise soups – studies have shown we eat fewer calories overall when we include soup as part of a meal.”

If you are comfort eating, try to warm yourself up.

Yale University research found things that are physically warm, such as a hot shower or warm drink, can help us feel happier and less lonely – making winter the perfect time to take your liquid in the form of a herbal tea or lemon water.

beef mushroom stir fry

Try this winter warmer recipe:

Beef, mushroom and ancient grain stir-fry

Quick and easy to prepare, this stir-fry takes the stress out of midweek meals.

Serves 4


  • 600g beef rump steak, fat trimmed, cut into strips
  • 2 x 250g packets microwave 7 ancient grains
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 shallots, cut into 4cm lengths AND extra, thinly sliced to serve
  • 1 bunch broccolini, cut into 4cm lengths
  • 200g brussel sprouts, thinly sliced
  • 300g mixed mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp oyster sauce
  • Sliced chilli to serve, if desired


Prepare microwave grains according to packet instructions and set aside. Meanwhile, place beef in a large bowl or snap-lock bag, add half the oil and toss to coat. Heat a large wok or non-stick frying pan over high heat. Stir-fry beef in batches for 1-2 minutes or until browned. Set aside on a plate.

Add remaining oil to wok over a medium-high heat. Add garlic and onions and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add broccolini and brussel sprouts and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes. Add mushrooms and stir-fry for 1 minute. Stir in sauces and two tablespoons water and cook for 1 minute. Return beef to wok, add ancient grains and toss to heat through. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve stir-fry topped with extra shallots and coriander sprigs. 


Beef mince would be a delicious substitute for rump in this recipe. When stir-frying the meat wait at least 30 seconds before tossing or stir-frying. This gives the meat a chance to brown giving it good colour and rich flavour. The second side will take a little less time to cook.

Once you return the meat to the wok, take care that it doesn’t boil in the liquid or it will toughen. Stir-fry only to combine and warm through.

Written by Liz McGrath