Comfort Foods – Why Do We Want Them?

Comfort foods example: mashed potatoes

Food provides us with nutrition, energy and essential vitamins and minerals. Food is fuel, but sometimes we use it for other reasons. After a stressful day at work, it’s easy to grab a pizza. While dealing with sadness, some may order an ice cream treat. Food is used to bring comfort to us in many situations.

What Comfort Foods Do For Us

Comfort foods are typically higher in calories and filled with fat and sugar. Foods like cakes, cookies, mashed potatoes, biscuits or pie can all be comfort foods. They can make us feel good after eating for a variety of reasons.

  • Foods high in sugar and fat stimulate the reward system in your brain and make you feel good. After a few bites, many people find that their mood improves. Your brain remembers this, and it becomes easier to continue wanting these foods.
  • Comfort food tastes good. Who doesn’t want a piece of chocolate cake? It’s delicious. For many, these high-fat and high-sugar foods are hard to turn down.
  • They are familiar to us and bring back memories. Does meatloaf take you back to your childhood dinners? How about warm sugar cookies? Do you think of your grandmother? These foods can trigger happy memories which makes them even more tempting.
  • Food helps some people fill an emotional void. If you are having a bad day, what do you reach for? It’s not lettuce. Typically, it’s cookies or chips. Many times, these comfort foods seem to alleviate feelings of sadness, boredom, anger and stress.

Find Comfort in Other Ways

There are other ways to seek comfort instead of looking to food. Just as food can make you feel better, so can other engaging activities.

  • Connect with Others. A phone call with a friend or a coffee date with a co-worker can be comforting.
  • Snuggle on the couch while watching a movie, light a candle or take a bath to get the same comforting feeling.
  • Challenge yourself. Jigsaw or Sudoku puzzles can challenge your mind and make you feel accomplished.
  • Add activity to boost endorphins. Challenge yourself to some fitness fun. Moving can improve your mood, just like chocolate does, so it can be a great substitute! Try a new class at the gym such as yoga, spinning or strength training. Bundle up for a walk outside or check out a new activity such as skiing or ice skating.

Find a Substitute

You don’t have to give up comfort foods altogether. There are many ways to make your choices a little healthier. You can find a substitute for some of your high-calorie favorites by adding in some lower-calorie comfort food options. A hot tea or coffee with sugar-free creamers can do the trick if you want something warm. If you want crunch, try veggies and a tangy dip. For a sweet treat, consider sugar-free Jell-O and puddings.

Make a Plan

Take things a day at a time and find a way of eating that works for you. If you’re easily tempted by comfort foods, consider the strategies above and add a couple smart substitutions.

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