“Comfort food” is a term we use to refer to food that we usually turn to when we are feeling sad or stressed. Sometimes these are also foods that are warm and hearty, such as, those eaten in colder weather. While the later can be healthy, the former are foods that are usually heavy on sugar and fat and they are heavily associated with pleasurable childhood memories.
Think about it, after you get a shot at the pediatricians clinic, you are given a sucker. After your dental appointment, you get rewarded with ice cream. When you are down with a cold or with the flu, your mom makes chicken soup for you.
On cold winter days, after you frolic in the snow making a snowman, your mother gives you a hot steaming mug of hot cocoa. Or in the summer when you visit your grandparents, you help them pick some corn which you then boil and slather with butter.
Comfort foods, with their aroma and flavor, take us to a place and time where we felt loved, cherished, protected and happy.
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What is so bad, then, about having comfort food, if it makes you happy?
Well, for most of us who only turn to comfort food occasionally, there isn’t much danger in indulging every once in a while. However, there is also such a thing as emotional eating, which is a way of coping with stress such that we invariably turn to food and eat a lot of it to make us feel better and to relieve us of the stress we are feeling.
What happens is we begin to think and feel differently about food. Instead of seeing it as sustenance to keep our bodies running smoothly, we turn to food when we can’t solve our problems or alter the difficult circumstances we find ourselves in.
Food becomes a sort of narcotic, as it helps us escape reality and takes us away to a happier place. Food then becomes a crutch or a cure-all. A dependency on food develops.
This dependency, like other substance dependencies, escalates. As our bodies get accustomed to a regular intake of a big amount of high-fat, high-sugar food, it craves this and it will take larger portions of these foods to make us feel better.
Eating habits take a while to change. Attitudes and feelings about food also take a whole lot of time and effort to modify. One transitional or stop-gap measure is to replace and modify the ingredients of the comfort food we love so much.
In this way, we can still eat the comfort food we crave and love, but the food itself won’t be so ruinous to our health.
Also, we can modify the size of the portions we eat. In this way, we can still eat the food we like, but we eat it in moderation. These strategies, of course, presuppose that we have not yet been diagnosed with illnesses or conditions that make the comfort foods poison to us in any amount, such as, the case with high cholesterol or heart disease.
How do we start? The key words to remember are: substitute, replace and lessen.
Substitute processed food with whole and fresh food; replace high fat with low fat or olive oil; and lessen refined sugar content by adding fresh fruits and nuts.
Here are some suggestions:
If the comfort food you love is fried, experiment with baking, broiling or grilling the comfort food instead. If it is deep-fried, try it pan fried in olive oil.
Try boiling or poaching and steaming instead of frying.
For stews, chilli and soups choose lower fat protein, such as, turkey or chicken, instead of beef.
If the comfort food involves a lot of preserved and sweetened ingredients, such as jellies, jams, candy or pure refined white sugar, try substituting with fresh fruit purees or stevia (natural plant sweetener).
If the comfort food calls for chocolate, opt for dark, semi-sweetened or unsweetened variants instead of milk chocolate.
Substitute chilled or frozen yogurt for ice cream or whipped cream.
Substitute yogurt or low fat cream for full cream or mayonnaise.
Why not make your own mayonnaise in the food processor? All you need are eggs, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.
If baked goods are your comfort food, try substituting whole grain flour for at least half of the amount of refined white flour. You can also lessen the refined sugar by adding dried fruit and nuts.
Use honey or molasses instead of refined white sugar. These types of sweeteners give almost the same level of sweetness but they also have added nutrients that are missing in the refined variety.
Instead of eating chips out of a bag, why not bake your own fruit or vegetable chips?
Changing your mind about food may mean better health—why not give it a try?