Comfort Foods vs. Comfort

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From the beginning of time when humans stood erect and hunted for sustenance, food has understandably been a priority. Now we’ve evolved our approach to food in such a way that we’ve assigned emotional labels to it such as “comfort” or “cheats.” We even have “angel food” and “devil’s food” labels assigned to cakes. I’ve addressed this in part before, but today I want to delve a little deeper into “comfort” foods.

Woman eating ice cream for a better humor

When you are stressed or sad, what is your go-to food (or food groups) to pick yourself up? For men it’s often fatty or fried standards like pizza, fries, mac ‘n cheese, or the trifecta: a bacon cheese burger. For women it’s sweets like ice cream, cookies, chocolates, or the grand-slam: ice cream and hot fudge on a piece of cake.

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Recently a client confided that although they were seeing positive changes in their body, were content with their job and home, and had a new relationship that was going well (i.e., they were happy with their lives) for some reason they still indulged (or rather over-indulged) in comfort foods on a regular basis. They had gone out with friends for lunch and ordered mac n’ cheese, a side of bacon, a soda and apple pie ala mode for dessert. When I asked why, they had no viable answer and was truly frustrated by their lack of self-control.

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But I suspected what the answer was – comfort foods have been so over-used by so many that even when the original reason for seeking them out is no longer present, our bodies (really our brain and it’s ever continuing quest for dopamine) continue to silently urge us to indulge. A perfect example of these “comforting foods” in action (in a negative fashion that is) is played out in real time in the award-winning documentary Super Size Me. (If you haven’t seen it yet, seek it out, it’s quite enlightening!)

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The pertinent question at this point should be how do we break our dependency on comfort foods? The answer is simple – moderation and discipline. Never deny yourself any of these beloved foods/meals completely, but you must be willing to institute some self-control over your portion size and frequency of consumption. Your body will stop craving them if you stop using them to fill your psychological holes in the first place! Then when all is well, there will be no more guilt trips over an unnecessary ingesting of these nutritionally void meals.

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When you feel the need to soothe your emotions with food or drink, take 30 minutes to write down your feelings, slow your breathing, and calm back down from the helter-skelter inside your head. If after doing all that, you still NEED that “comfort” meal, make it be half the size you used to consume.

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Slowly but surely you will either be able to stop abusing food, or at least you might come to terms with what’s really bothering you and deal with it or seek professional assistance to work through the issue. This is crucial to anyone seeking to reduce their levels of body fat. You can exercise 6 x a week, and eat better than ever before, but if you don’t get rid of the emotional baggage that you’ve tied in with food, you’ll never fully achieve your goals. Remember too, that comfort foods usually do not result in you feeling comfort for very long!

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4 comments

  1. Jill Englander

    A very good article. I wish I had this knowledge when my girls were little and I didnt gratify them with sweet treats all the time.

  2. Alexis Zibolis

    Fact, fact, FACT!!! You are echoing my words I am constantly telling my clients. Often they are resistant to the idea of moderation, and at first want an all-or-nothing approach. They realize quite quickly that they can’t maintain that for long, and end up going over the deep end by over eating to make up for their deprivation. Moderation is KEY!! Thanks for reiterating this!!!

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