Stress is everywhere. But with our current situation, it seems that it has gotten the best for most of us. Various triggers and forms can cause stressful days. May that be due to hormonal changes, a typical day at work, stuck at home due to quarantine, injuries, a sudden change in the weather, or even a misunderstanding with a loved one.
When put into these situations, our body’s natural response is to reach out for food that we associate “comfort” with. May that be pizza, chocolate, hamburgers, cake, pasta, or ice cream.
The warmth and dangers of comfort food
Comfort food elevates our mood by triggering our happy hormones, thus providing a temporary sense of well-being. It is also our brain’s way of consoling us when we’re feeling sad or simply rewarding us for a job well done.
In fact, a study conducted by the American Psychological Association says that thirty-three percent of adults who reported overeating are primarily because of stress and that indulging themselves in these kinds of food helps them relax.
But most of this deliciously sinful food, though, is rich in fat that can be dangerous for our health. According to this study conducted by Harvard, typical comfort food consists of saturated fat, refined carbohydrates, and sugar, which can elevate your blood sugar and increase your risk of heart disease.
Should you abandon it?
With the high levels of sugar and carbohydrates present in this food, are we risking our health in exchange for a brief euphoria? Believe it or not, surrendering yourself to your cravings while maintaining your health goals does not have to be mutually exclusive.
Go ahead. Read that again.
A study has shown that particular food can fulfill our sense of belongingness. These trigger memories and emotions we have associated them with. Thus, they bring us back to a more comforting, familiar territory.
For instance, your mom’s homemade chicken pot pie may be the reason why you stand in line at your favorite bakeshop. Or that your go-to food is the same recipe your grandmother cooks for you on your sick days.
So does this mean that we have to totally ban comfort food from our diets? Not necessarily.
Balance is the key
When letting yourself lose in indulging in your favorite comfort food, it pays to be mindful by taking small bites, carefully planning your meals, getting enough sleep, and exercising. These are some ways to help you reach your goals in terms of a healthier lifestyle.
In fact, it may even be a healthier option for some.
Dr. Fernando Gomez-Pinilla of Neurosurgery and Physiological Science at the University of California says that “…the relative abundance of specific nutrients can affect cognitive processes and emotions.” This means that the more balanced you make your meals, the more balanced your brain will function. This is backed up by a study where consuming food that we associate with warm feelings and good memories can improve your mood and well-being and decrease loneliness.
Beyond the comfort from stress
Physically, comfort food can also help those recovering from muscle strains, undergoing surgery, and needing treatment for sports injuries. Sports Performance nutritionist Sean Casey stated that when injured, the body’s natural process is to kick into a higher gear; thus, we consume more energy when recovering than when we’re not.
For that very reason, a drastic cut in calories may prolong the rehabilitation and treatment of sports injuries. This means that fewer calories mean a decrease in the athlete’s strength and power.
While not all of your favorite comfort food is allowed, you can control the number of nutrients you provide your body, which is one good way to speed up your recovery.
While some food can improve your muscle growth and digestive health, increase your chances of a fast recovery, and whatnot, note that others can make you feel sluggish and overstuffed. So finding balance in between can have a considerable impact on how both your mind and body benefit.
Aside from that, there are also various ways to satisfy your comfort food cravings healthily. You can always opt for alternative recipes that allow you to enjoy your favorite food any time or set a ‘cheat day’ where you can let yourself go without depriving yourself and feeling guilty.
Remember that all food is meant to be enjoyed. Treating yourself once in a while is a way for you to recover and bounce back from life’s toxicity. As long as there are moderation and balance, no food is unhealthy, off-limits, or even shameful.