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Why are Comfort Foods So Comforting?

Let’s face it. After a challenging, stressful day, most of us want to reach for our favorite comfort foods. You know the type – tall, dark, and handsome. (By the way, we’re talking about Eclairs). While this might help you feel nice for a few minutes, it can definitely do more harm than good, by hindering your weight loss and health goals, and making you feel guilty and lacking in self-control.

But why are these comfort foods so comforting? Why do we always want comfort foods after a difficult day? There are scientific reasons behind it. The best thing to do is to find better coping mechanisms –which is 100% possible! Keep reading to find out why comfort foods are so comforting and what you can do to stop consuming them.

They Make You Feel Good

What do French fries, donuts, and pasta all have in common? They’re delicious, but they are full of calories, sugar, carbohydrates, and fat. When consuming these ingredients, you may feel a sense of well-being as they trigger the brain’s reward system. To put it plainly, comfort foods give you comfort. It’s that simple. But unfortunately, this sense of wellness is short-lived.

What’s a better way to make you feel good? Well, the best thing to do is to find other stress-relieving mechanisms. This will change from person to person. Some might see that taking a nice, hot bath with some Epsom salts does the trick. Others might want to snuggle in bed with a weighted blanket and a cup of tea. Still, some find exercise and meditation to be the key.

Your best option is to find what works for you. If it includes calories, then it’s probably not a good idea. Make a big list of comfort ideas and try them all out until you can find a replacement behavior that provides a sense of well-being without harming your weight loss journey and your health.

They Bring Back Memories

Yes, there is a link between scents and memory, especially when it comes to emotional memory. That said, it’s not uncommon for people to indulge in comfort foods that give us a detailed and emotion-filled memory of our past. For example, someone might crave their mom’s famous spaghetti and ultra-buttery garlic bread when they’re missing her.

Nostalgic eating might seem like the best way to ‘bring back the past.’ And, most of the time, these memories involve some type of comfort food. That’s because comfort foods improve overall mood while also allowing for a connection to a positive memory.

While that might be a great way to remember someone or something, it isn’t great for your health. Some better options to relive a great memory are to look at pictures of the memories, call your mom or dad, or watch a favorite childhood movie. By doing these activities, you can be reminded of memories without the added guilt and self-attack.

It’s a Special Occasion

Comfort foods are extra comforting during the holidays. Why? Because it’s a time associated with indulgence. Plus, you’re surrounded by loved ones who are also enjoying the holiday. Why wouldn’t sinking your teeth into an extra-large piece of pie be comforting at a time like this?

Well, while indulgence in comfort foods might be oh-so-comforting during the holidays, it doesn’t make it the best choice. Short-term pitfalls don’t meet long-term goals. So, instead of being coaxed into custard and cream puffs, say no and opt for a healthier choice. And remember – just because it’s healthier doesn’t mean it can’t be indulgent. During the holidays is a great time to get creative.

Comfort foods are exactly how they sound: comforting. But to someone who is trying to be healthy, they can be a form of kryptonite. If you’re consuming comfort foods due to stress, holidays, or bringing back the past, you need to find new ways to handle these situations. Mix and match different plans until you find the one that’s right for you.

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Dr. Candice Seti


California-licensed Clinical Psychologist, Certified Nutrition Coach, and Certified Personal Trainer

Dr. Candice Seti

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