By Daphne Baldwin Kornrich, MS, RDN, CSOWM, CDN

Food is the fuel our bodies need to sustain us and keep us alive. Food was not meant to be a tool to help comfort us or help us deal with the stresses in our lives.

Comfort foods are generally high in calories, fat, salt and sugar. Think ice cream and French fries. Comfort food can give us a temporary “fix” and makes us feel better for a short time. According to a blog from Psychology Today, foods high in fat, sugar and salt may activate the same regions in the brain that promotes reward and pleasure similar to the response seen in drug addiction.

Certain foods may elicit comfort when we associate them with the times in our lives when we didn’t feel so stressed. Coming home from school and having milk and cookies may have made us feel there was someone at home who cared about us when we were children. This behavior may have become a habit we fall back on when we need to unwind.

We hear that certain foods are associated with comfort such as macaroni and cheese, and see images on TV that condition us to think that eating a half gallon of ice cream is going to help us get over a breakup. Many times we use food to help us cope with emotional problems, and in that moment we do feel comforted, but that feeling quickly fades away. Intellectually we know that food is not the answer, and sometimes we feel even worse when we use food for comfort, especially when we overindulged.

It is important to remember that we are worth being comforted, but we need to find different strategies to cope with the stressful and not so stressful times. We need to adopt positive comfort behaviors, which will truly help us with our physical, mental and emotional health.

Stress strategies:

  • Take a walk. Enjoy your surroundings and let you mind re-set. The beauty of a sunset or looking at the water can do wonders to help alleviate stress.
  • Try meditating or just take a deep breath – it really does help.
  • Write down in a journal how you are feeling – sometimes just putting thoughts on paper helps free the emotions in our brain.
  • Listen to the music that you associate with happy times.
  • Call a friend.
  • Try to think of things that you are thankful for and focus on the positive.

Remember that using food as comfort is just a habit. Changing habits is possible with mindfulness and time. It’s worth the effort to strive for a healthy relationship between food and feelings. Adopting a lifestyle change that incorporates healthy eating and physical activity will help us strike a balance that will enable us to enjoy our “comfort” foods on occasion.