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Why We Turn to Comfort Foods When Sick or Stressed

Maybe it's the end of a long stressful day, or perhaps you have been struck down by the latest flu that's been doing the rounds. Whatever the reason, more often than not we end up turning to food for comfort. But what is it about comfort food that makes it comforting?

The Theory of Comfort Foods

Research suggests that comfort eating is a learnt behaviour that has often stemmed from our childhood. When a child is sick or upset, parents or caregivers will often offer comfort foods to cheer them up or perhaps as a reward for good behaviour, and as adults we often use similar foods to comfort or reward ourselves in times of need.

The Issue

The issue with indulging in comfort foods is that these foods are typically loaded with calories, saturated fat or sugar such as ice cream, chocolate and chips. Although comfort foods are delicious and may temporarily lift your spirits, frequent comfort eating can lead to weight gain, and given this, they can often be accompanied by feelings of guilt quite soon after consumption.

Breaking Habits

So if comfort eating is affecting your weight management efforts it is important to take steps to address this. The first step is to know what comfort foods you typically reach for, so you are ready to say “no.” It is also a good idea to clear these foods out of your fridge or pantry to prevent temptation.

You should also consider ways to deal with your need for comfort more constructively. Take some time to consider the emotion you are feeling and by doing this you will able to identify the underlying need. For example, if you’re stressed, it might be a good idea to go for a walk and clear your head or if you’re lonely you could phone a friend. Research has found that comfort foods can be swapped out for anything else that brings the same soothing sense of familiarity, like re-reading a beloved book or watching a favourite TV show. Ultimately, meeting your true needs will be more satisfying than eating. If you find you must indulge in some comfort food, make sure you keep the portions under control and remember to eat the food slowly and mindfully so you actually enjoy it.




 

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