I dove into the topic of comfort food on my Newstalk episode with Kieran Cuddihy. Comfort food is like a little hug, and we tend to turn to it soothe ourselves during times of stress, anxiety, loneliness, boredom, or to celebrate, express happiness and share beautiful moments with loved ones. But the reasons behind this behaviour go way deeper than just satisfying hunger pangs.
Social and cultural conditioning plays a big role in shaping our beliefs about food and how it connects to our emotions. As kids, we’re often taught that food can ease both physical and emotional pain. And let’s be real, who didn’t have a parent or grandparent offer us a cookie to make us feel better when we were upset? Pop culture even reinforces this idea, with movies and TV shows showing heartbroken characters diving into a tub of ice cream.
Research has identified five key functions that comfort eating serves: Physical Feel Good, Connection, Nostalgia, Certainty, and Reward.
Comfort foods give us a tangible connection to our happiest memories and make us feel good. Food can also provide a sense of belonging, community, and shared experience. And it should! There is nothing more joyous than sharing a memorable and special moment with those you love! Just the aroma of certain foods can trigger memories of happy times in our past, reminding us of our childhood or home. Comfort foods can even offer a sense of structure and control, especially in times of uncertainty.
But while comfort eating can provide temporary relief, it’s not a sustainable way to manage our emotions. Eating to feel better only addresses the symptoms and not the root cause of our emotional distress. In fact, studies have shown that people in a bad mood are more likely to choose unhealthy foods, while those in a positive mood tend to choose healthier options.
Cacio e Pepe
To break the cycle of comfort eating, it’s important to identify what’s really causing our emotional distress and find healthier ways to manage our feelings. This might mean seeking professional help, practicing mindfulness, or engaging in physical activity.
Remember that emotional eating isn’t a sign of weakness or a lack of willpower. It’s a coping mechanism that we’ve learned over time. By recognising this and finding alternative ways to cope, we can take control of our emotional wellbeing.
So, comfort eating is a complex behaviour that’s deeply ingrained in our culture and psychology. But by understanding why we turn to food for comfort, we can take steps towards finding healthier ways to manage our emotions.
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