Why is Comfort Food so Soothing?

Comfort Food and dietingComfort food is such a magical thing. The thought of it, the sight of it, the smell of it, and certainly the taste of it can make us feel happy and soothed, even on the most stressful days. In fact, it’s on those truly anxiety-filled days that these types of meals are the most enjoyable. But at the same time, they are nearly always foods that aren’t all that good for you and that will have exactly the opposite impact on our diets than what we want.

Scientists have discovered why we nearly always crave foods that are bad for us, but fortunately, there are some great ways to help yourself to obtain the same level of comfort, without having to toss away all of the progress that you have been making in your weight loss.

Pizza, chocolate brownies, creamy mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese (with as many kinds of cheese as you can find), are all foods that can make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. According to the University of Buffalo’s researchers, it is primarily because of the positive social memories that you associate with those tastes.

The cravings that we experience are usually for the same foods that we have enjoyed with our loved ones, particularly during childhood. We are drawn to that memory of happiness and security, particularly when we are feeling isolated or rejected, said the study. Therefore, even when the people aren’t there to give you support, it can feel as though the food is doing it for you, through the positive associations that it brings.

In a household where veggies are served most often throughout someone’s childhood, that individual is most likely to think on those foods in the most comforting way. Unfortunately, for the majority of us, that’s not the case. So how do we make better decisions when we want to feel as though our meals are giving us the hugs that we need?

The answer is threefold. The first is to give in. Every now and again, when you really, really want that fatty, cheesy meal, just have it and enjoy it. Just make sure that it’s only on a rare occasion and you don’t make a regular habit of it. The second is to come up with some alternative recipes for some of those old favorites. Low cal chocolate cake, mac and cheese with low fat cheese, and some other options can help you to cut back on the damage that comes with comfort. The third is to create some new positive social memories around healthy foods! When you entertain, serve some of your favorite veggie dishes. Put out some flavor-packed hummus, and use low fat plain yogurt instead of sour cream when you make dips!

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