Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
9 May

Why We Crave Comfort Foods

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We all have them – ”comfort” foods that feel like more than just food. Far beyond the random edibles of our day, these are imbued with the likes of positive memories, celebratory identities, nurturing associations. They’re the feel-good recipes or psychological standbys that satiate us on a deeper level. Irrational as it might sound (but isn’t really), food is more than function. It’s more than taste or even nutrition (gasp!). Food, specifically our personal list of comforting favorites (resulting from cultural and emotional experience), has the power to shift our mood as well as our physiology.

When we go Primal, we end up rethinking our relationship with these old standbys. In some cases, we cherish the memory but let them go for the sake of health goals. We might experiment with adapting them, or we might simply reserve the right to enjoy them in their original forms on special occasions. However we re-envision our favorites post-Primal, I’d suggest we don’t need to throw out the concept of comfort food itself. Though the actual preferences are personal, the impact of comfort food as a whole is real – and measurable. Research has shown that eating – or even writing about – comfort food actually blunts negative emotions like loneliness. As with any phenomenon, the more we understand it, the better able we are to use it for good in our lives and health.

The Emotional Reasoning

For all of us, I think, food becomes imbricated with emotional associations, which evolve in layers of our upbringing, experience, and exposure. Were we given a particular food as a reward growing up? Were our favorites part of holidays or other celebrations? Maybe our mother made a certain food when we were feeling down. Perhaps our deepest, if not most numerous, associations come from childhood, but others come to us in salient points of adulthood. Think back to the last really good meal you had – the kind that leaves you calculating when you can go back for more. The best meals, of course, involve more than the food. It’s the company, the environs, the mood, the conversation, the occasion. The happier the event, the more convivial the atmosphere, the more intimate the friends or family, the richer the experience and more positive the memories.

The Physiological Reasoning

Fat and carbohydrates figure in prominently with the most cited comfort foods. Carbs can temporarily boost serotonin levels, which can leave us constantly running back for another neurochemical fix. Our favorite – fat – figures into the picture as well (although more favorably). Research shows, for example, that even when sensory experience is extracted, food (in this case, fat) soothes. When a group of study subjects viewed a sad movie or listened to sad music, subjects who received an injection of saturated fat were less affected emotionally (and showed less activity in brain regions associated with negative thoughts) than those who received saline shots.

The Social Reasoning

On the subject of loneliness… There’s something Primally human – and social – about the idea of comfort in food, in fact. For tens if not hundreds of thousands of millennia, we’ve bonded over food. Offering food as a gift or show of hospitality was critical to social bonding. It encouraged peace. It built alliances. In terms of our identification with common comfort foods, food psychology expert Brian Wansink and his team note (PDF) how social learning is critical “in teaching animals how to select food with needed nutrients and how to avoid ingesting toxins.” Comfort foods feel so universal because they are (within cultures anyway). We’re wired to eat what those around us show us is desirable because our evolutionary hardwiring tells us it must be safe and nutritious.

On an interesting gender note, Brian Wansink and team have also shown men and women gravitate toward different foods for comfort – men more toward meals and women toward snacks. Still, I know plenty of women who crave hearty, meaty foods and men who have a sweet tooth. For me, it’s an eclectic kind of smorgasbord – spaghetti sauce with sausage and a hint of clove, being one. I still make the recipe from time to time but substitute something Primal for the pasta (e.g. spaghetti squash or mushroom and peppers). It’s a family recipe of sorts, and I try to relish the memories as much as the food on the few occasions I dig out the recipe.

So, if we accept that the penchant for comfort food is innate, what do we do about the non-Primal nature of many old favorites? How do we allow for the “comfort” instinct in our Primal living – even harness it for a richer enjoyment of food and life?

Use the 80/20 Principle.

If you crave your non-Primal comfort foods seldom enough and can recover easily enough from them that they won’t derail your Primal plan, consider them fair game for the occasional 80/20 application.

Adapt the ones you can’t – or just don’t want – to live without.

Some of us, as much as we miss the original versions of our favorites just find they aren’t worth the side effects or backsliding. Take heart in the fact that it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing situation. Primal adaptations (I know a great book to help you out here.) are practical and totally legal options. In time, you’ll likely find that you enjoy the PB versions even more.

Experiment to find new favorites.

Consider the possibility that you haven’t yet found your favorite comfort food. Some of the foods I enjoy the most today are choices I never would’ve thought of years ago. You’re never done learning how to savor food (or life) in new ways.

Make new “comforting” memories.

When we accept that comfort food isn’t just about the food itself, we can recreate the other elements that feed into those soothing associations. Does a certain meal make us feel taken care of because we cherish the memory of a parent making it for us or perhaps with us? Do we associate a food with contentment or security because it was a grandparent’s recipe, and we relished those visits or holidays? We can obviously celebrate those memories for what they meant to us. In practical terms, however, we can also lay down new neural pathways for comfort and pleasure. All it takes is a little effort, a good recipe, and some repetition. Suddenly, you find yourself craving broiled shrimp on a bad day at the office.

Flesh out the experience.

The dining experience, that is. Beyond the food itself there’s what typically goes with it in the memories that play in our heads. We may not be able to transport our grandparents back to our kitchens, but we can enjoy a family photo night and a Primal adaptation of one of their recipes. We may not eat full blown desserts anymore, but we can keep people around the table laughing and talking after dinner with a good espresso or some dark chocolate. We might be surprised at how much of our enjoyment comes from the ambience, the company, the hospitality, the ritual of sharing a meal or just dining solo exactly the way we want.

Finally, the last point speaks to a greater lesson – that we need comfort in the first place. I, for one, see nothing wrong with healthy indulgence, but there’s more pleasure to be had in life than food. In this manically harried culture of ours, we’ve lost the art of self-care. I’m not talking about keeping your toe nails clipped or ironing your clothes. I mean things that go beyond basic hygiene and social norm.

Perform this radical exercise. Absolutely zero guilt, fear, or self-loathing allowed. Write a 100 things – yes, at least 100 – things that bring you comfort and pleasure. Yes, it’s a shocking, lotus-eating brand of exercise, but do it on good paper (or on the computer) because you’ll want to save it. Put it all on there – walking barefoot in warm sand to getting a scalp massage, alphabetizing your book collection to buying flowers, using power tools to relishing comfort foods. Now you have it – for when you need it or when you just feel like using it, which probably can’t be often enough.

Can you tell it’s almost Friday? Yes, now go cook yourselves something tantalizing, and relish it with all the voracity of a caveman/woman on a carcass.

Thanks for reading, everybody. Have a great end to the week.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I try to shift to non-consumable rewards. My comforts foods are based on my being a sugar fiend.

    Groktimus Primal wrote on May 9th, 2013
    • Same here.

      Amy wrote on May 9th, 2013
  2. My demon is chocolate, specifically milk chocolate. It always makes me happy to eat it.

    YvonneJean wrote on May 9th, 2013
    • My old comfort food was tortilla chips and salsa, but since going Primal I have not had any comfort foods at all. (Well, maybe spoonfuls of coconut butter).

      Nocona wrote on May 11th, 2013
  3. Thanks Mark, I’m at work and hungry (there are biscuits available but I’d rather go hungry).

    You’ve just made my mind up – I’m going home in a minute and will be cooking leftover roast chicken in a rich garlicky tomato sauce with vegetables and olive oil, but tonight I’m going to top it with cheese sauce and bake it till it’s golden and bubbling and eat it on steamed veg – OMG can I leave now?

    :-)

    Primal V wrote on May 9th, 2013
  4. I agree on trying to shift to non-consumable rewards. I really liked the bit about there being more pleasure to be had in life then in food. That saying, I am going to fry up some crispy bacon and eggs and pour myself another hot cup of coffee to enjoy the quiet that comes with a sleeping baby.

    C.Cobb wrote on May 9th, 2013
    • Only thing better than bacon is frying the eggs in the left over bacon grease. I recently found uncured bacon at some of my local grocery stores so I don’t feel nearly as guilty eating it in mass quantities.

      Nothing quite beats bacon, eggs, and a good pot of coffee.

      Jacob wrote on May 9th, 2013
      • You might know this already. Uncured bacon is still cured. It’s cured with celery juice – contains naturally occurring nitrites (or nitrate? I always get these mixed up) rather than chemical nitrites. :) Mmmmm, bacon. Meat candy.

        Heather wrote on May 9th, 2013
      • Not to mention that there’s still more nitrites in many vegetables and our own spit than bacon (see Kresser’s post from a while back), so who cares anyway—limit it for the n6, not the nitrites…

        Graham wrote on May 9th, 2013
    • Just read this article after making bacon and frying three eggs in the grease. I added a few bits of thyme from our garden to the eggs, and ate them with a bit of avocado.

      So far today I’m doing fine.

      Eating wrote on May 10th, 2013
  5. My two main comfort foods are A)Reece’s (or anything with a chocolate and peanut butter combination) and B) meaty + cheesy stuff.

    B)is simple enough; cheeseburger sans the bun, A) eludes me….maybe dark chocolate with a dollop of almond butter? Anyone share my addiction to Reece’s that has found a viable primal alternative?

    Jacob wrote on May 9th, 2013
    • I recently made the chocolate bark recipe that is in Rich Food Poor Food and swirled in some homemade cashew/almond butter just for funsies. Let me emphatically state that this does not taste anything like a Reese’s. However, the smooth richness of the nutbutter does help take the edge off the dark chocolate and I am finding that the candy version just tastes entirely too sweet to me these days. I took a bite of a Snickers yesterday and actually threw the rest away because it was just too sweet and artificial tasting. It’s a miracle!!

      Rhonda the Red wrote on May 9th, 2013
      • Hmmm… that sounds pretty good. I’ve never made chocolate bark. Is it pretty easy to make?

        Jacob wrote on May 9th, 2013
    • Pour melted chocolate and hazel nut butter in layers in a muffin tray (with cupcake paper, or if you can get silicone muffin cups that works too). You get both the chocolate and nut combo as well as the crinkles around the edges like with reece’s. :)

      Peter wrote on May 9th, 2013
      • GENIUS!

        Jacob wrote on May 9th, 2013
        • I try ;)

          Peter wrote on May 9th, 2013
    • I share that addiction. An occasional, nearly primal susbstitute for me is: in a coffee cup, mix a dollop of almond butter with a few chunks of dark chocolate. Throw in microwave 30 seconds. Stir til chocolate is all melted & swirled. Then eat with a spoon. Bonus: in a coffee cup, I can hide my addiction from the kids, they dont notice!

      Lora wrote on May 9th, 2013
      • Sounds like my beer or wine in metal bottles.

        Animanarchy wrote on May 9th, 2013
      • oh my goodness! i do this too, and i ALWAYS use a coffee mug for exactly the same reason!!! well played, lora!

        whitney wrote on May 9th, 2013
    • I mix 1 tablespoon of almond butter, one tablespoon of cocoa powder, and one tablespoon of coconut oil. They come out like chocolate truffles – you could even roll them in shredded coconut or more chopped almonds. I think the sweetness of the almonds and coconut oil are enough, but you could always add a little stevia or (shhh!) honey if you desire a little more sweetness.

      Mantonat wrote on May 9th, 2013
    • One of my favourite “treats” is a 1:1 mixture of almond butter and coconut butter, scooped up with a square (or 2 or 3 ;)) of 90% dark chocolate. I don’t know if it replaces peanut butter cups in my life (I never ate a lot of those anyways, though I did love peanut butter.) but it sure is delicious! My husband loves it too! Alternatively, I’ll sometimes indulge in almond butter with a few raisins mixed in, again scooped up with 90% dark chocolate. IMO, that one tastes just like those “fruit and nut” chocolate bars, which I did used to love. I do recommend you proceed with caution on these ones — they’re dangerously good! :D

      M. wrote on May 9th, 2013
  6. This is such a cool post–the health/food/psychology/hormone connection is huge.

    While I have a bit of a sweet tooth that I need to manage (fruit instead of lots of chocolate), I get so much comfort from cooking great food all the time–it’s self-care (and family care too). Food is one part of our budget we don’t skimp on. Working a 5 minute walk from home, I cook 3 meals a day, and it’s all comfort food!

    Tom B-D wrote on May 9th, 2013
  7. This was a great article! It put into words some of the feelings I’ve had about switching from food I’ve grown up with or made over the years — a feeling that I’m abandoning my roots or something. I had an experience 13 years ago on a very strict diet to control migraines, I called it “The Diet from Hell” — unfamiliar food, it tasted bad, I hated it and only stuck with it for 5 months. Food had to be more than just something safe to put in my mouth, it had to bring enjoyment too. Anyway, in some ways, the Primal diet is even more strict than that old headache diet but my attitude plays a big part: knowing why I eat this way (instead of a doctor telling me) and Real Food does taste good even though I don’t make homemade cookies and muffins anymore. We can get used to not eating sugary desserts and not even miss them. I do think it’s important not to focus on “primal treats” by recreating too many of the old sweet foods and eating them frequently. Keep the treats, primal or not, for the rare occasion, not a food staple. And maybe try to stop thinking of sugary floury food as “treat” which implies that it is good for you.

    Sandy wrote on May 9th, 2013
  8. Well-timed after yesterday’s book post and the argument of paleo-fying non-paleo food.

    Jey wrote on May 9th, 2013
    • Coincidence? I think not…

      Graham wrote on May 9th, 2013
  9. I love this types of posts! I like the exercise of of writing 100 comforting things. That’s a great idea, I have 2 clients in mind and a sister who I’ll be sharing that with.

    I think it’s important to remember that its the friends, family, stories and laughter shared that is the experience, not the food.

    Luke wrote on May 9th, 2013
  10. Comfort food. Huh. I grew up with more-than-awful CW: my mother detested cooking and made it very clear at every meal. We yearned for spaghettios with eggs that my father would make every so often for breakfast before school: that was much much better than the evil concoctions my mother would dream up (raw potato suddenly appearing in foods because it was “something like” water chestnuts???). Anyway… food was never a comfort, and so it led to all kinds of eating disorders in my life.

    Primal (9 months) is the first time in my life that food has been a comfort–primal foods. Meat. Lots of it. Not keen on fats, but avocado oil and coconut oil: YESSSS! I’m still eating tons of meat–must be the nutrients? and packing on muscle and losing bf. I’m so grateful to MDA, Mark and all of you, who have inspired me and also taught me how to love food.

    But i DID miss chili rellenos something bad! Even as a child, i would take off the outer (flour?) covering–i didn’t like it’s deep-fried texture, but dug the pepper and (some) cheese. Someone here came up with a primal-version: just dump off the outer cover and stuff jalapenos and wrap in bacon! Well! I took away the bacon (too rich) and used sheeps cheese/goat cheese/casera cheese, stuff it also with ham or whatever left over meat we have around, skewer it and voila! Chili Rellenos!

    So that, along with carnitas (primal) and tongue are my go-to “new” comfort foods. thank you all for this!

    drjoyous wrote on May 9th, 2013
    • forgot to mention: they are no longer called “chili rellenos” in our house–they are “stuffed green weenies.” makes me laugh every time: comfort, yes?

      drjoyous wrote on May 9th, 2013
      • Nice. I came across an appetizer dish at a BBQ festival that they called rattlesnake eggs – jalepenos stuffed with pulled pork, cheese, and then wrapped in bacon and smoked for an hour or so. I’ve made them at home a couple of times when I use my smoker in the summer.

        Mantonat wrote on May 9th, 2013
        • That’s the G-rated name for them :) We call them ABT’s (Atomic Buffalo Turds) but whatever you call them, they’re awesome. You can pretty much stuff them with whatever you have on hand. For those that aren’t heat lovers, a quick rinse of the jalapenos after de-seeding them helps.

          hc wrote on May 10th, 2013
        • There is a place here in Orlando that has them, 4 Rivers. They call them Jalapeño Poppers.

          Love ‘em

          Eating wrote on May 10th, 2013
    • Raw potatoes. Wow, what a childhood. :( I’m glad things are looking up.

      Amy wrote on May 9th, 2013
    • Not really much in the way of comfort foods in my childhood either. Mealtime was difficult because my dad could not eat normal foods and my mom resented cooking two separate meals, one for us and one for him. All that cold, burning resentment and the stony silence burned my memory more than the food. Meals were fairly paleo anyway. A few good dishes she made are comforting in their deliciousness. Thankfully they’re pretty much primal if you can figure out how to make the sauce without using Campbells soup.

      None of this means I don’t like a good paleo chocolate mug cake now and then though. It would be nice to figure out a good paleo tuna casserole, too.

      Diane wrote on May 9th, 2013
    • Chile Rellenos sometimes have a bit of flour on the pepper, but it’s not at all necessary except to make the batter, which should really only be whipped egg white, stick better. I make them all the time minus the flour and they work great!

      Graham wrote on May 9th, 2013
      • I’ve tried just doing an egg coating, but it never seems to adhere without the flour. I don’t usually use flour substitutes, but I might try a little coconut or almond flour just to get the egg batter thick enough.

        Mantonat wrote on May 9th, 2013
        • Make sure you whisk the egg whites separately, almost to a meringue, before stiring in the yolks. Then be really gentle with the battered pepper, and try using a saucepan instead of a skillet for a deeper fry.

          whistler wrote on May 9th, 2013
        • potato or arrowroot starch would work better thatn either of those flours, methinks…

          Graham wrote on May 9th, 2013
  11. great post. i struggle with compulsive overeating and eating for comfort and entertainment. eating low carb primal has helped with all that, but i still need to work on those bad habits. i love the idea of making a list of 100 comforting things. i hope that in time, i can expand self care and comforting to many more experiences apart from food.

    Jenny wrote on May 9th, 2013
    • Yes, it’s definitely an ongoing struggle to separate food from comfort. Our family got to the point where all social gathering involved only overeating and talking. Games, singing and other ways to “be together” weren’t “normal” and ended up being awkward. My mother is so far gone that the only thing that seems to give her comfort is food anymore. :( The list thing is a great idea to work away from it.

      Amy wrote on May 9th, 2013
  12. My biggest temptation is ice cream… I love ice cream and I can eat it by the carton. To help with this craving (my roommate still makes a DQ run at least once a week) I put about a 1/2 cup of frozen blueberries in a bowl with some coconut milk and a touch of cinnamon… chop it with a hand chopper and eat it slowly. It’s so good and I feel it is much more flavorful than the ice cream I was eating. Give it a try!

    Daniel wrote on May 9th, 2013
  13. Here’s a good suggestion for future posts Mark…how to raise a primal kid who won’t crave comfort food as an adult.

    Jeremy Creed wrote on May 9th, 2013
    • We are doing this with our son. His comfort foods at 2.5 years are red cabbage and raw kale( he helps me make kale chips and steals it raw before I can get them in the oven). He doesn’t like any paleoified desserts I’ve made , even muffins with chocolate. But offer him 92 % dark chocolate straight and he begs for more. He was accidentally given Grahm crackers at preschool and didn’t eat it. He shows zero interest in other kids cheese fish, bread, cupcakes. He used to eat dates but told me now they are too sweet!!! I was sending dates in lieu of cupcakes for him for birthdays. He loves berries and bananas, and other sweet whole foods. I love that we are creating new comfort foods as a family- for example purple roasted sweet potato cut open with a scoop of coconut butter and a dash of cinnamon… It is possible to create new assassinations with food without trying to recreate unhealthy ones. I am however a fan if the food itself doesn’t create issues. For instance Hail Merry tarts with maple sugar, chocolate and coconut oil I’d say are a great primal treat but if I eat some I can’t stop and start eating them once a week, all three servings at a time. So I know I can’t be trusted with any added sugar in my diet. My son however seems self regulating…

      Laurie wrote on May 9th, 2013
  14. “imbricated ” I had to look it up. What a great word!!

    Zot wrote on May 9th, 2013
  15. My comfort food is macadamias. Great replacement for bread carvings, too.

    primal_alex wrote on May 9th, 2013
  16. Working with clients with difficulty balancing and maintaining good blood sugar levels, I have found an aggressive treatment for Candida can have a huge effect. Candida likes to live on the sugars in our gut, and when it overgrows, it can keep us in low blood sugar hell. We respond to that with more cravings, and more consumption, which then feeds the little buggers, causing them to overgrow more. There are tests for Candida, but herbal remedies are cheap and effective and have few side effects. Worth a try. I found that it became much easier to ignore the temptation of grains and sugar, and in fact, post-treatment, seeing someone with a huge slab of bread got to be sort of disgusting. When I get interested again, I know it is time for another treatment. Yeast is everywhere, we all carry some, and it creates little problem until it starts bullying out the good guys.

    Elaine DiRico wrote on May 9th, 2013
    • What treatment do you take, Elaine? Sounds interesting, and I think I can relate to this

      reebok wrote on May 9th, 2013
  17. Fortunately, my non-primal comfort foods are all in the “not so bad” range. I have continued to eat and will continue to eat Tex-Mex (should really be Cal-Mex in my case) a couple times a week. Corn tortillas (sprouted, organic). Frijoles (organic, traditionally prepared). White rice (local, organic). Quesadillas (with pasteured aged cheddar). None of this seems to bother me, perhaps because I have eaten it all my life.

    I am not Mexican-American but I grew up in Southern California. My mother had taught home ec at a predominantly Mexican-American high school and had learned lots of recipes.

    We lived with my grandma, who had been born in Indiana in the 19th century and cooked healthy farm food, aside from the home made breads.

    A few years ago, I went on a cruise around the British Isles and Ireland. On the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, I was delighted to have good California fresh Mex food for lunch.

    Harry Mossman wrote on May 9th, 2013
    • Oh, um, I forgot to mention peanut butter. LOL

      Harry Mossman wrote on May 9th, 2013
  18. I used to crave them a lot, but after switching to a nutrigenomical diet approach I lost interest in them. I guess the main reason we crave them is our body lacks some nutrients and when it does those foods are more appealing than others. When you get all the nutrients your body needs, you stop craving comfort foods. Now my comfort food is a T-bone steak on the BBQ ;-)

    Cheers

    Tiziano Solignani wrote on May 9th, 2013
  19. My favorite new comfort food is my own creation, a cocnut milk latte! I make my own cocnut milk with the vitamix blender weekly, and when the milk comes out of the vitamix it is very warm and foamy. So I make sure I have coffee ready, pour about 5oz of coffee into about 8oz of warm coconut milk, add 4-5 drops of steviaclear, and damn! So flippin good!

    Kevin wrote on May 9th, 2013
  20. hwalkerf wrote on May 9th, 2013
  21. My comfort foods all give me horrible indigestion these days. They always did, but now I recognize it. It doesn’t affect my cravings, though, I just have to plan to cheat when I can afford to be sick : )

    flenser wrote on May 9th, 2013
  22. What would Grok have eaten for comfort food?

    barepaws wrote on May 9th, 2013
    • Just watch Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern and see what special treat he is given when he’s the guest of honor at a village banquet or around a campfire when he visits cultures that still live and eat more like our ancestors did.

      Mantonat wrote on May 9th, 2013
    • Grok probably ate to stay alive and reasonably healthy, not for comfort. He had the right idea.

      Shary wrote on May 10th, 2013
  23. List made!

    Peter wrote on May 9th, 2013
  24. It has to be peanut butter, not the wimpy smooth brand it has to be super crunchy.
    mmmmmm

    john wrote on May 9th, 2013
  25. I’m lucky, my comfort food is chicken feet at yum cha (and I’m not even Chinese – I’m anglo Aussie).
    Mark is absolutely right about all the other factors in comfort food – chicken feet are my comfort food not only because they taste amazing, but because I have so many fond memories of meeting friends every Saturday/Sunday in my 20s for our weekly yum cha. The bustling atmosphere of the restaurant, the conversation and the friendship are all a huge part of why every time I hear the lady say “chicken feet” when I ask what’s on her cart, I get so excited.

    Pete wrote on May 9th, 2013
    • Yum cha!!!! Now you are talking! Miss that kind of eating here in the UK. Our local Chinese doesn’t do anything like that. They have roast chicken & chips on their menu!! :(

      redsnapperuk wrote on May 10th, 2013
  26. Raw oats drenched in pure maple syrup with some raisins ain’t nothing like it you people should give it a try simple and delicious cheat meal :)

    Jaybee86 wrote on May 9th, 2013
  27. Great post.

    I think it’s helpful to differentiate between pleasure and enjoyment. Pleasure, as I see it, comes from stimulating the brain’s reward system. A whole gamut of things do this – some of which are considered good and others not so good (food, sex, drugs, alcohol). Enjoyment, to me, is a different category. There may be some neurological similarities to pleasure, but enjoyment, as I see it, comes from things like connecting with others, challenging ourselves, and evolving throughout life. There’s nothing hedonistic about enjoyment. In contrast, there’s a fair amount of hedonism in pleasure. (I use hedonism here for lack of a better word.)

    As for food and pleasure, it’s a big topic, as is clear from this post and the comments. Some foods hit the brain’s reward center a lot harder than others, and that’s why those foods can become problematic (think chocolate vs. kale).

    I’m posting a lot about this stuff now. Feel free to have a look. The series is called “Why Sugar Is So Crack-Like (& What To Do About It).”

    Well done, as always!

    Susan Alexander wrote on May 10th, 2013
  28. I have to give Mark points for using the word “imbricated.”

    Catherine W wrote on May 10th, 2013
  29. I avoid emotional eating, seeing it as a weakness. However this article reminded me of something. Food is about communion (socially) and that is emotionally driven isn’t it? Eating with friends, eating at a wedding, a birthday or any other social event. So emotional eating when bored, angry, sad, frustrated etc is still out of bounds for me… but I obviously still eat at social events. I do avoid bday cake and that sort of thing. I find it easy to not eat at social events. I don’t bow to pressure. I just change the subject. When people ask me if I get BORED eating this way I always say to them…. I don’t use food to “entertain” me. So if food is boring to you, then in my mind, that is a problem. I use food to nourish me. It doesn’t have to be boring, but I hardly think grok worried about his food being boring. My opinion – and it works for me. Its a change of mindset like most things….

    Jane Britton wrote on May 10th, 2013
  30. I find this interesting. I have some favorites and some foods do bring good feelings and are associated with good memories but I rarely turn to them for comfort or out of emotion.
    I’m not sure why I don’t eat emotionally. I guess as a kid it just wasn’t a thing in our family to offer food when someone was feeling down or offer it as a reward for anything. Food is just food, for energy and nourishment. Plus it tastes good.

    Wafaa wrote on May 11th, 2013
  31. Thankfully many of my comfort foods involve beef :) Unfortunately I also love white potatoes in many forms, cheese, chocolate (especially with mint), and lemony desserts. But I think my number one comfort dish of all time is bacon and avocado.

    Caro wrote on May 11th, 2013
  32. Julia Ross. Mood cure and diet cure in 1999 advocated a primal diet to increase amino acids and also amino acid supplements tor cravings. I have found good benefits with DLPA and GABA or comfort food cravings sugar and stress.

    mo wrote on May 11th, 2013
  33. Some of my favorite comfort foods were healthy. It just depends on what was most special from childhood. So while the chocolate peanut butter cookie dough and the baked mac and cheese is pretty bad, I also love the “sam sik suei” (red and mung beans with coconut milk and “leung fun” – grass jelly) I used to get at the local vietnamese/cantonese diner. While Mark may not approve of beans these are actually quite healthy.

    Heda wrote on May 13th, 2013
  34. The reasons you stated about why we crave for comfort foods are all true. Sometimes the kinds of foods we eat depend upon our emotions, peer pressure, family background, etc. Although this might be the case, we can still change the way we feel about food and look for healthier alternatives to attain better health. You mentioned some tips on how to this can be achieved. Thanks for sharing your insights. I really liked your idea of writing the 100 things that can give me comfort aside from thinking mainly about foods. As the saying goes;”Eat to live. Do not live to eat.”The same still holds true these days because our bodies don’t really need much food to survive, Just enough healthy foods are enough to keep us going.

    Natalia Vergara wrote on May 13th, 2013
  35. One thing I haven’t seen posted in the comments or webiste yet (though it’s possibly because I didn’t scour enough) is one of the main reasons carb/starch based comfort foods are so…. well… comforting.

    When a person eats carbohydrates and starches, the resultant chemical breakdown provides a veritable hodge-podge of chemical groups as we all well know. One of these chemical compounds that arises from carb/starch breakdown is in the opiate family, albeit a distant distant cousin. When I say opiates, I mean the family of morphine, dilaudid, etc. Now, don’t go panicking and thinking you’re going to end up a drug addict because you won’t.

    The opiate like compound helps produce that “comfort” feeling you get after a big bowl of mac and cheese.

    Science is fun, no?

    Chris wrote on May 19th, 2013
  36. The whole idea of comfort foods is interesting because sometimes these are the foods that many people who gain weight are using to soothe some other deeper emotional issue. Emotional eating is probably a hard thing to kick especially when you want to diet. There are many reasons for weight gain for example, but emotional eating and comfort foods play a big role.

    cathy e wrote on May 21st, 2013
  37. BBQ chicken wings made from my grandpa (Deda)!! Cabbage rolls! Insert pretty much all Jamaican food. Desserts: my mom’s apple pie. Banana bread with chocolate chips and coconut flakes. Coffee!!

    I think that’s it. lol

    Zorica Vuletic wrote on July 26th, 2013
  38. Good points, Doc, and absolutely accurate. IMO, the idea of “comfort food” just gives us a reason to stuff our faces, mostly with junk, every time something isn’t quite right in our lives. No wonder so many people are obese these days.

    Shary wrote on May 10th, 2013

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