Usually during the summer, I eat a lot of salads and fresh fruit. But this season (and for the past few months), I noticed that have not been craving these types of foods. Instead, I’ve been eating more “comfort foods,” such as sandwiches, bagels, and pasta. It’s not surprising that I would crave these heartier foods — this year hasn’t exactly been easy. And I know I’m not the only one that’s experiencing this dietary shift. So, let’s explore why we’re reaching for our favorite indulgences and more importantly, how to break comfort food cravings.
When we use the term ‘comfort food,’ we refer to foods that provide a nostalgic or sentimental value. These foods are usually high in calories or carbohydrates. We tend to think of such as hearty beef stew, gooey macaroni and cheese, and rich cake. We tend to indulge in these comfort foods when we’re stressed, and we may even prepare them for a distressed loved one. Comfort foods can even be your favorite fast food order, salty junk food, and any other highly processed food that seems to make you feel better.
These foods satisfy our cravings when we’re upset or stressed, but did you know there’s actually a scientific reason too? Judith J. Wurtman, Ph.D., co-author of The Serotonin Diet: The Scientifically Proven Program to Drop Pounds, Improve Your Mood and Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth explains. “Sugar and starchy carbohydrates, if eaten in the correct amount, will increase the synthesis and activity of serotonin, thus producing calmness and a decrease in anxiety.”
If you’re navigating through a stressful life shift, or (like most of us) enduring the many effects of COVID-19, comfort food seems like an easy reach. After all, it’s possible to have repeated doses and experience the same calming effect over and over again.
The problem is that over-indulging in comfort food will impact your physical and emotional health. For example, I notice that I am eating more, but I am not as satisfied and feel hungrier throughout the day. I also feel less energetic and more bloated. As explained on WebMD, eating lots of simple carbohydrates — without the backup of proteins or fats — can quickly satisfy hunger and give your body a short-term energy boost, but they almost as quickly leave you famished again and craving more. And while eating carbs is essential for a healthy diet, too many simple carbs can lead to a host of illnesses, including heart disease and obesity.
Resisting our favorite indulgent recipes isn’t easy, especially during stressful times. Here are some tips on how to break comfort food cravings and start to shift to more nutritional choices.
Consider keeping a few journal in a notebook, or using an app such as My Fitness Pal or You Ate. Once you see your eating habits spelled out, it may lead to some a-ha moments.
Sometimes people mistake thirst for hunger. Staying hydrated increases your energy level and brain function can help prevent headaches and constipation, and aid in weight loss. Before each meal, drink a full glass of water and wait a few minutes. You may find you’re not as hungry as you thought.
I’m embarrassed to say the number of times (pre-pandemic) I forgot I had vegetables or fruit in my fridge, and the produce went bad before I had a chance to eat it. Meal prepping can ensure that doesn’t happen. Make a menu for the week and buy all of the ingredients you need. Once you have everything together, prepare the ingredients to make cooking quick and easy. If you have extremely limited time, try pre-cut produce.
Going “on” a diet implies that you plan to eventually go “off” the diet. Healthy eating should be a lifestyle, not a temporary fix. If your goal is to quickly lose five pounds or fit into a dress, you’re less likely to remain on course.
To put it simply, eat when you’re actually hungry. Do not eat when you’re bored or anxious or worse, watching television.
A healthy diet includes carbs, but not all carbs are created equal. Look for ones that contain fiber, like whole foods and whole-grain breads. Refined carbs like white rice and white pasta won’t have as much fiber. And of course, you’ll want to cut back on comfort carbs with refined sugar, like cakes and cookies.
Redefine your definition of healthy foods. It doesn’t have to be a sad piece of lettuce or over-steamed broccoli. Expand your palette and try new things. You’ll be surprised how many healthy, delicious options are out there!
Alcohol isn’t a food, but unfortunately, your body doesn’t know the difference. Enjoying too much wine may be an enticing way to eliminate stress, but it provides no nutritional value. It also dulls the little voice in our head that is trying to make better food choices.
Unlearning our relationship with food can be tough, but it’s possible. Try not to think of food as a calming tool and find comfort in other places. Venture outdoors for a daily walk, start a new book or call a friend when you feel anxious or stressed.
It’s impossible to change these ingrained habits overnight, so remember to be patient with yourself. Just be sure to have a clear plan for yourself and roll out one small change at a time. You can do it!
Ready to start making healthier decisions? Make sure you’re aware of what your body needs. Check out the best nutritional advice for women over 50!