Connecting Stress, Comfort Food and Weight Management

Comfort food and weight management

Comfort food is not a new phenomenon. It’s your grandmother’s mashed potatoes, your mom’s spaghetti or that pint of ice cream in the back of the freezer that makes things feel a little bit better when times are tough. We’re programmed to reach for comfort.

Why Does Comfort Food Make Us Happy?

To our dismay, many of us eat when we’re not hungry. Why is that? Because our brain responds to the environment surrounding us, and we act on factors other than hunger.

Over time, triggers such as sight, smell, taste and even memories have conditioned us to consume preferred foods. This is also why feelings of stress, depression and anxiety compel us to reach for certain food items. We gravitate toward things that make us feel better.

Add to this equation the fact that our brains don’t like to eat the same foods over and over again. If you’re used to mixed veggies, grilled chicken and salad each day, you likely won’t want those foods under different circumstances. You’ll want “the good stuff.”

So what does all this mean? When we’re feeling anything less than our best, it’s normal to want to grab that piece (or box) of pizza and sit down with a can of soda and some other tasty snacks. Our brain associates these foods with emotional relief.

Learn more about your brain’s reward system by CLICKING HERE.

When I’m Stressed, What Can I Do Instead?

If you’re feeling the effects of stress, depression or anxiety, or you find yourself reaching for your favorite comfort foods, don’t panic. Think before you act and consider the following ideas instead:

  • Exercise to release endorphins and distract yourself
  • Confide in a close friend, family member or counselor
  • Spend some time doing a favorite hobby
  • Schedule time for self-care
  • Find alternative, healthy ingredients to make your “comfort foods”

There’s a lot of stigma surrounding the connection between weight and food. But know this: your body and brain have a complex, back and forth relationship with communication. Your feelings are valid and normal. The most important thing to do is recognize that you are in control!