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On why “comfort eating” is good for you. October 13, 2008

Posted by sarawr in food philosophies.

I’ve found myself, in the past week, doing what everyone says you shouldn’t: I’ve been turning to food for comfort. While I understand the reasoning behind all the warnings not to comfort-eat, I find that those reasons don’t really apply in a time of upheaval. Sure, you shouldn’t stuff your face all the time just because you feel a little down, but there’s nothing wrong with turning to an act of nourishment and nurturing when things go really awry, either.

My great-grandmother died a little over a week ago, and one of the things I miss most about her is her insistence on real food. She almost never bought or made pre-packaged stuff (in fact, the only thing that comes to mind is her occasional liking for frozen pizza), and I can count the number of times I knew her to eat out on one hand. She cooked, at every meal, with real ingredients — many of which she grew and preserved herself. She wasn’t a gourmet chef or anything; she was just a woman who knew how to make a good meal. Cooking this past week, even when I broke the rules (by using pre-mixed whatnots or store-bought veggies) has made me feel a little closer to her.

So here’s what you do with food, when your heart is a little broken. Your mileage may vary, but some combination of these things is likely to help; some or all of these things have a good chance of healing.

Make something for you; take the time to savor it.

I’ve been getting up an hour earlier each morning, taking a little time to brew some coffee or steep some tea, curling up on the couch with a blanket and a book and enjoying the warmth of my cup. In the evenings, I make or buy a good snack — some parmesan & garlic pita chips, warm buttermilk biscuits with real butter, fresh vegetables with good dip — and I unwind from my day. I think about my grandmother at these times, of course, but I also just relax and tune in to what’s going into my mouth. Feeding and treating myself is one of the best ways I know to focus on how I feel and what I can do about it; it’s a little reminder that I can take care of myself… and that it’s okay to keep enjoying things.

Make time for others, too.

After my solitary coffee-or-tea in the mornings, I make some (Pillsbury) cinnamon rolls or (homemade) soda bread for everyone to have for breakfast. I love going through the ritual of heating the oven, mixing things together, and waking my boys up to the delicious smell and warmth of a good breakfast. Sometimes I fry up some eggs and ham and we all sit down together; sometimes we just hang around the living room doing our own things and nomming on baked goods as the spirit moves us… but we always have a happier morning. Cooking and baking, putting forth a little effort to make the house warmer and blood sugar more level, gets me thinking about the safe little cocoon of my family. It reminds me that I’m not alone, and it lifts my spirits to be able to offer something so basic and necessary to the people I love.

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

When Connor was little, I was in constant freak-out mode. “He can’t have sugar!” I’d cry, “And we certainly can’t feed him food that wasn’t made from scratch!” I was so focused on the details of what he ate and how it was made and when he got it that I forgot to relax and enjoy mealtimes with him. These days I’m letting some of that go; my morning baking is sometimes more Pillsbury-exploding-canister than whole-wheat-flour-and-organic-buttermilk, but we still laugh and he still grows. As helpful and healing and wonderful as cooking is during the hard times, sometimes it’s also… well, hard. These are the times I reach for the pre-mix, call up our local sandwich shop, or, yes, head for fast food. When you’re going through a rough time, sometimes it’s best to let go and let Ron — Ronald McDonald, that is. It feels just as good to cut yourself a break as it does to serve up organic, vegan, balanced meals produced from the sweat of your brow.

Don’t make it if you don’t like it.

Seriously. When you’re in a tough spot, why make it tougher by forcing yourself to eat beans or insisting on tofu if they’ll just make you more miserable? Take the time to think about what you want, listen to what your body needs, and feed yourself accordingly. I’ve found myself baking more (as mentioned above) in the past week, because my grandmother and I used to bake cookies and petit fours and cakes together. Baking now reminds me that those times aren’t gone, and it comforts me more than the salad I “should” have eaten would. Sometimes, letting go of the rules is better for you than losing that last five pounds would be. Just roll with it.

There are many more ways that food can be comforting. We tend to center around our daily meals, socialize over decadent snacks. We’re told, of course, that food shouldn’t have these uses; food should be for nutrition and energy, nothing more. Remembering that it has other uses can get you through the hard times better than almost anything else, though, and those five pounds will still be there for the losing when you’re through the storm. I hereby give you permission to comfort eat.



1. lessscruffyprettysoon - October 13, 2008

some parmesan & garlic pita chips,

aren’t those AWESOME?! I have to whack my fingers not to eat a bag at a sitting. you know what else I just discovered, are popchips.

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