Foodbyte #3: Comfort Food: How many marshmallow peeps and jelly beans did you eat yesterday?

peepLetting-Go Lent is over now, and Monday is the day I’d like to stick to for issues about food, but maybe I can wrap up Letting-Go Lent by talking about how difficult it is to let go of our food cravings.  Friday’s post was about our Comfort Zone.  Today’s is about Comfort Food.   

You are what you eat, and if we could register our cravings on our faces, what would people see?   The meatloaf that got served every week?  Maybe chili?  Maybe macaroni and cheese?   How about potato chips?  Oreos and milk?  Mint chocolate chip ice cream?   

I always associate “comfort food” with home.  I was talking to my friend about comfort food and he associates it with fat.  Familiarity mixed with fat is the perfect recipe for a comfort food.  

You would think that if your health depended upon giving up comfort food, you’d do it–but only the most motivated, self-disciplined among us ever do.  I consider myself to be a fairly healthy eater, but when I travel on business for instance, I rarely choose a salad for dinner, or baked fish.  I’ll pick New England clam chowder–hearkening back to my days on the coast of Connecticut.  Or grilled cheese, taking me right back to treasured memories of diner lunches with my mother.    I want to be home when I’m traveling for business, and my stomach says “I’ll take you there.”    

Also, biology takes over with hormone-associated cravings.    I think the body is a wonderful thing because it really does speak up when it needs something.  When I was pregnant, the greasy cheese steaks I used to eat at lunch all of a sudden revolted me and I ate cottage cheese instead.    When I cut meat out of my diet, all of a sudden I was reaching for an alternative protein source–nuts.  I’ve hated nuts since I was a child and now I can’t get enough of them.   So sometimes cravings can be our friends.

But cravings can also be formidable foes in our quest to eat more healthily, which is why information can never be the only arm we bear to fight back against poor dietary habits.    We have to acknowledge the pull some foods have on us and understand why it’s so hard to be rational beings when it comes to eating.  There are a few theories.

Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen says that we may seek comfort foods when we are sad. citing the University of Illinois Brand and Food lab. Apparently happy people don’t crave comfort foods as often as sad people.

Researchers at the University of California-San Francisco link comfort food cravings to stress.   It may be part of the flight-or-fight syndrome, which would explain why when our adrenaline is rushing we crave high-energy foods, such as those find in carbohydrates and fat.

Prevention Magazine offers three key questions if you are on the brink of an unwanted snack attack, with some explanationa as well as antidotes:

  • Am I stressed out?
  • Have I been eating less than usual?
  • Am I getting enough sleep?

Click on the link to the full article for the antidotes, which are helpful.  Not surprisingly, exercise and other techniques for de-stressing are part of the strategies:  along with one that I really like:    If you try to fool your cravings with poor substitutions like eating yogurt instead of the milkshake you want, you’re still not going to be satisfied.   Success in controlling cravings is really about moderation–not deprivation.

In addition to all these brain chemicals firing off fight and flight messages, I do think the memories of home play a big part in deciding what our cravings are, and we don’t really want an antidote to those.    Holiday memories are built with foodstuffs that make us smile and drool at the same time.   And like Pavlov’s dog, we try to repeat the experiences over and over.    

At least that’s why I went for those marshmallow peeps yesterday.  And the jelly beans.  And the dark chocolate bunny.  And I have no regrets.

  I’m including the same poll from last week:  if you haven’t yet taken it, please do.