As the days continue to fly by, I find myself thinking that a new normal has to be around the corner; it will appear at any moment. My anxiety does not enjoy the constant static that has become our current lives. I can feel my body and mind paying a steep stipend for my daily intake of social media and news streams. There is an internal scream for a shift to mindfulness, comfort, and presence. In times of crazy uncertainty, we crave comfort and protection. Often times this comes in the form of food. The foods that make us feel warm and cozy, loved, and protected.
As a nutritionist with an anti-diet approach to health and wellness, I cringe when I hear people talking about how their bodies have changed during the quarantine. The idea that our body and mind should be responding to the current situation in a different way than seeking comfort, is really troubling to me. The idea that we would go through the last 6 months with no changes in our eating and movement patterns is insane and frankly unrealistic. We are being ripped from our normal lives of school, work, vacation, and socializing and put into a stressful cycle of despair. Add the point that this is an election year and the amazing social justice movements that are finally happening in our nation, and the need for comfort is tripled. So taking all of this into account, our natural progression to comfort food is expected and should be welcomed.
So let's talk about why comfort food has a bad reputation. By definition comfort food is
"A food that provides a nostalgic or sentimental value to someone, and may be characterized by its high caloric nature, high carbohydrate level, or simple preparation"
Thanks, Merriam-Webster for adding dieting mentality and food police thinking right into your definition. Way to add to the problem! For anyone who is still riding the chronic dieting train, this definition in itself causes guilt and shame. The idea that comfort food is high in calories and carbs is a dieter's nightmare!
Let's use curiosity rather than judgment to investigate why "comfort food" is naturally higher in its fuel content (see what I did there, calories + carbs = fuel for the body). Think about when you are feeling down, either mentally or physically. You are tired, have no energy, can't concentrate, there are feelings of uncertainty and you may not be participating in intentional movement (any of this sound familiar during the current times?). Enter carbohydrates, you crave them and you are not sure why. Carbohydrates are literally the fuel that your body prefers to run on. They provide quick energy to the brain, muscles, and nervous system. If you are under consuming carbs, the whole body suffers - mentally and physically. If you are feeling tired and over-stressed, your body is naturally going to crave the foods that will help fix the problem. It is literally picking the foods that are going to create comfort in that time and serve your body the most.
Rather than giving comfort foods a bad reputation and pilling on guilt for eating them, using our curiosity to find out why we want them empowers us to see through diet mentality and take a kind look into our body's needs. Next time you are craving comfort foods, take a deep breath, and check-in with yourself. Are you feeling anxious, tired, or worried? How are the foods you are craving going to benefit your body? Create space for the food to do its comforting job without the blame and shame that comes with the textbook definition of comfort foods. All of this can come with kindness and understanding that the desires for these foods are normal, support your needs at the time, and have nothing to do with will-power.
So go forth, with kindness and curiosity rather than blame and shame to seek out the foods that serve you most in the times of uncertainty and unusual life circumstances. Find comfort in trusting your body to make food decisions based on your current needs, rather that be comfort or nourishment.