Comfort foods are often high calorie foods that tickle your taste buds and lower levels of stress. While you do have to beware of comfort foods, they really do provide stress relief, but not just from the pleasure of eating them. It’s from the neural activity it causes. One study on mice showed that rats under duress responded to sugar water, their comfort food, and displayed signs of reduced stress. When the liquid bypassed their taste buds and went directly to the stomach, there was no relief. That says comfort foods work only when they linger on the palate for a few moments and set off the taste buds.
Find a substitute for the food you crave.
All foods have certain characteristics. Sure, all comfort foods hit the taste buds, but sometimes it’s more than that. Sometimes, you need to hear the crunch and feel your jaw working. Crispy crunchy snacks are often your weakness in this case. Tooth grinders and clenchers often find these types of crunchy snacks best. Try a crisp apple instead of pretzels or chips. Salty foods are also important food cravings and again, chips might be your answer. Substitute with air popped popcorn. In the experiment on mice, a sugar substitute worked to replace the sugar water.
Find a physical outlet.
Whether you’re angry or sad, exercising helps. Stress of all types produce stress hormones that leave you feeling terrible. In order to get rid of that feeling, working out, not eating, is the answer. You need to do something active, to mimic the fight or flight response, which is what nature meant to happen. Run up and down stairs, take a brisk walk or do anything that gets your body moving. It works to eliminate that feeling of frustration, anger, sadness or just general depression and the blahs.
Identify what causes the urge to eat the comfort food.
You have to know what the problem is in order to solve it. Taking the time to chart your cravings and the events that led up to them is important. If you find you want comfort food every time you visit a friend, is there something lacking or wrong with your relationship? Does your work make you want to grab a big bowl of mashed potatoes or is it frustration with your budget? Work on solving the problem or learning to deal with it. The first step is always admitting one exists, not hiding out in a big helping of food.
– Learn portion control. You don’t have to give up comfort food, just limit the intake. Combine it with fresh veggies or other healthy snack. I have a client that loves mashed potatoes. Now, instead of eating a bowl full, she puts a small amount in a dish and uses it as a dip for celery. She gets the taste, but in a far smaller amount.
– Use fruit to quench that craving for something sugary. Make sure it’s one of the sweet fruits, such as bananas or grapes.
– If you love ice cream, make your own low calorie, healthy alternative. Slice a banana and freeze it on a tray, then mash or blend it until smooth. It tastes cool, creamy and a lot like ice cream.
– Fried foods are often at the top of the list. Baked alternatives are a good choice. Try some baked sweet potato fries. Experiment with various healthy foods until you get the same sensation of your comfort food.