Reality Check: Comfort, Joy, and Food

There’s a reason why some foods are called “comfort food.” Like fuzzy socks or fleecy blankets, some foods evoke feelings of being safe, cared for, and satisfied.

Whether your comfort food of choice is homemade bread, stew, or chicken pot pie, it’s remarkable that simple food can evoke such powerful feelings, isn’t it?

For some, food plays an unhealthy role as the comforter in their lives. When one gains a harmful amount of weight while losing a mountain of self-esteem with every ounce, the downside of using food as comfort can outweigh the satisfaction.

Some people are particularly vulnerable around Christmas. In this season of comfort and joy, many think that everyone else is happy and that they are supposed to be happy, yet they feel miserable.

When you’re feeling down, comfort food might seem to fill not only your belly, but your heart as well. After all, food is non-judgmental. That bowl of shepherd’s pie doesn’t care if you are smart or beautiful. It loves you (or at least, it’s available to you) regardless.

Unfortunately, while comfort-craving eating may fill your arteries, it’s not really filling your heart. If you are vulnerable to the seduction of eating for comfort, then I hope you’ll find these suggestions helpful.

First, recognize that we are human. We have needs, and if we are not satisfying them, we feel dissatisfied. Eating comforting food is one way to try to reduce that dissatisfaction—to reduce the feeling of a lack of security, belonging, or even love. But eating is not the only way.

Ask yourself, what are other sources of comfort for you? Maybe it is cuddling up in a blanket, or holding the cat, reading a book, knitting, listening to music. Figure out some non-food ways to feel satisfied and comforted. It’s more effective to have thought of options before you wake up, unhappy, in the middle of the night, ready to raid the fridge.

Next, plan ahead and work your plan. If you are going out and experience tells you that if you skip dessert, you’ll feel deprived, miserable, and ready to dive into the cheesecake when you get home, choose a different approach. Plan to have a small piece of whatever is most special to you.

If you find it difficult to stop eating while sitting at the table, then plan ahead to leave the table.

What if you backslide? You had a great plan, but then your mother-in-law sabotaged you with her chocolate lava cake. You fell into her trap and ate the whole thing. What now? Give up and eat everything in sight?

Instead, you could see the incident for what it is: a setback. Now you have the opportunity to plan again, using what you’ve learned. Keep refining your plan till you have created one that you can follow on a sustainable basis.

Finally, consider finding non-food activities to fill that comfort-craving void. Friends, interests, work, physical activities, or contributing to a worthy cause may seem less immediately gratifying, but more satisfying in the long-run than a whole pan of brownies!

What brings comfort to you?

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