By: Melanie Copeland
What does “comfort food” mean to you? Is it something that you ate as a child that brings back good memories while hanging out at the lake with you parents? Or a really great dish that you just ate last year that you crave? Is it the memory of a Popsicle on a hot summer day while playing outside, or just good old mashed potatoes or French Fries, or even the dreaded chocolate? There are many different triggers that cause us to crave different foods, and they can be linked both emotionally and physically. They can be just as strong as a craving for downtime when you are sick or a good cry when you are upset. It is all based off of urges. But, what is it really that causes this so called comfort food to actually comfort us?
Some of the major comfort foods that people reach for usually are not the healthiest, and not only does it depend on age, but it can also be determined by culture. If you live in a county where meat is a precious commodity, it might be something that you crave more than sweets here in the United States. It could be related to childhood memories of what your parents made for you, or it could even be something that feels forbidden, something that brings out the “oh hell with it, I am eating that” attitude, in a form of rebellion. But, whatever “comfort food” you choose, it really does come down to being a personal expression of desire and craving, and usually what you want, others don’t.
Because there are so many different types of comfort foods, it makes it very hard to determine what exactly causes people to crave some things and not others, but regardless, there are certain characteristics that psychologists have traced to determine why we as people crave different things at different times including: loneliness, boredom, nostalgic feelings, stress and even when in love. It seems that food as a whole works for creating and giving us comfort in every part of our lives. Which is not only interesting, it is also amazing. Since we are beings that depend on this food for sustenance, it is remarkable how we can attach our feelings and emotions into something that is a basic need of survival, and not really have any qualms with that, we just snack on…
Overall however, there are some similarities that these “comfort foods” share, they are usually “flavorful and easily eaten, having soft consistencies” and are foods that are easily accessible, which is why most of the time they are things that are eaten in a rush, leading us into our so called guilty pleasure moments, or later, regret. (Wikipedia) This complex string in our minds of eating for a reward and then punishing for the after effects, is a contributing problem to many people who over eat. While, not proven as a main cause of obesity or anything like that, it is pretty hard to walk away from the emotional links that tie us to food on such a regular basis.
One of the first things that I came across while researching this is that comfort food is generally used as social surrogates for people when fighting depression or loneliness. By taking comfort in the form of something other than human contact, food can be considered “the friend that never disappoints or ditches us.” (Rufus 2011) For people who live alone, lack social interactions because of work, and families that live far away, food can become the link to the emotions that they had when they were around their loved ones. Special dinners, family gatherings, laughs and fun can all be brought back by food. Our minds might wander, but it seems somehow our tastes never do. When we eat something that is correlated with a positive memory, we can almost relive the experience in our lives again. Which makes “comfort foods” all the more powerful at the end of the day? I mean after all, if we can place such positive memories into the food we eat, just how much power are we giving this life sustaining substance, and is it necessary or just something we have become accustomed to? While personally I believe the connections between food and emotions are something that is needed to make us not only happy, but healthy individuals, it seems that many people view their comfort foods and beings something that is bad.
Feeling bad…yea, just do a Google search of “comfort foods” and you will be amazed at all the dieting sites that come up urging you to think different about craving and try to replace bad thoughts with good ones. Or, even all the sites that pop up about what it means when your body craves something is that you are not getting enough of certain foods in your diet. Diet…diet…diet…but is it really? I am not going to try to disprove these statements, but if we consider that the food we eat when we are sad or depressed is worse than the food we eat when we are not, we might just be lying to ourselves. There are so many times that I have been very happy and still decided to eat poorly, or there have been times when I have been extremely upset and food is the last thing that comes to mind when I want to consider comfort. So, personally I feel that there are foods that are bringing comfort to people, and it is not always because their extreme emotions. Sometimes it can just because as simple as – that is what I want to eat today. Maybe not a full on craving – just a preference. Is this because we really care about what we are eating, or is it because we live in a land with plenty that allows us to consider these urges that are not based on survival?
So, the next time you really crave something, you might want to consider not whether it is good or bad for you, but whether it is something that you are supplementing for a feeling, something that you are using to overcome an obstacle in your life, or maybe even something that is being used as a surrogate friend, and make sure that you are making healthy positive choice about what food you are using to sustain yourself. If there is an underlying issue, might want to check it out before that guilt kicks in. But, if you are eating because you are hungry and you have positive connotations that are attached through your memories – then I would suggest…enjoy it. After all, it seems that we are emotional creatures that are attached not only to people, but also to food, and denying ourselves joy in life is not what we are here to do, as long as we don’t overdo it…
What are your favorite comfort foods? Share with me and I might post them to the blog in my next comfort food article.
Happy Eats !
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Comfort Food Fights Loneliness. (n.d.). Retrieved September 2012, from www.sciencedaily.com
Rufus, A. (2011, June 22). Explaingint the Psychology of Comfort Food. Retrieved September 8, 2012, from www.gilttaste.com/stories.622-explaining-the-psychology-of-comfort-food
Wikipedia. (n.d.). Comfort Food. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.ord/wiki/Comfort_food