As we all continue to deal with the pandemic, let’s pause and consider one of the reactions many of us have had: seeking out comfort foods. The definition of a comfort food from Google’s Oxford Dictionary: “Food that provides consolation or a feeling of well-being, typically any with a high sugar or other carbohydrate content and associated with childhood or home cooking.”
According to the website Snack Food and Wholesale Bakery in an article entitled “Why Comfort Foods Are Important During a Pandemic” – (and yes, this organization has something to gain by promoting comfort foods) “The ongoing pandemic has sparked a rise in consumers’ cravings for familiar comfort foods and indulgent items like baked goods with about a quarter of Americans (26 percent) craving more baked goods than they normally would over the past six months. According to a nationwide survey conducted by The Harris Poll and commissioned by General Mills Foodservice, more than one in four Americans (28%) are eating more baked goods as a result of the pandemic over the past six months. Items such as cookies (57%), bread (50%) and cake (42%) top the list of baked goods Americans have been eating as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past six months.”
The pandemic has triggered our need to retreat to those things that provide comfort because we feel so stressed and fearful. Food can be one of the ways we soothe ourselves and try to trigger memories of feeling safe and happy. We give ourselves permission to indulge because we deserve it, need it, right now. This is not to blame us for somehow being weak, it is to explain and even free ourselves of any guilt for succumbing to those urges to indulge in food that probably isn’t very nutritional physically but is somehow feeding our emotional needs.
More research: according to the website The Takeout in an article entitled “America’s Top Comfort Foods of 2020 Tell the Story of a Very Long Year” says “A poll of 2,000 Americans showed that the majority of us are, of course, reaching for comfort foods at least a little bit more in 2020 than we did in 2019—in some cases, a lot more. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
Among the top 15 foods that respondents reported consuming more of this year than they would likely eat as often or in smaller amounts pre-pandemic include pizza (55%), ice cream (46%), mac & cheese (39%), Potato Chips (39%), Chocolate (37%)
Another reason we are vulnerable to the pull to indulge in eating comfort foods is how stress impacts how our brains function. According to Dr. Bruce Perry, a world-renowned neuroscientist and trauma expert, when we are stressed we usually function in lower brain parts. While in these parts we are only able to think in terms of a few weeks or days ahead of us and if in a place of fear or terror only in terms of minutes or seconds and definitely are not able to think about what the future may hold. We live for the moment or the day but not for what a few months will look like.
Is there anything we can do to not get too carried away with eating comfort food? Here are a few ideas:
• Appreciate your need to find ways to self-soothe and be comforted in these stressful times. Don’t blame or shame yourself!
• Consider other ways you experience comfort. Reading, watching TV, journaling, spending time with social media (if it has a positive impact on you!), hobbies
• Try new recipes for healthier foods. There are so many websites to go on that include videos of how to prepare dishes.
• Create weekly meal plans to help you stay focused.
• Write out your grocery list before heading to the store and stick with it.
• Buy smaller portion bags of things like chips.
• When deciding to eat comfort foods practice portion control. Use smaller plates and bowls.
• Know you have the power to walk away from tempting foods – stay out of the kitchen.
• Be a mindful eater. Chew food for at least 20 seconds, don’t gulp anything down, pause to enjoy what you are eating.
• Find friends who you can talk to about how you are meeting the challenge of eating too many comfort foods so you can encourage each other.
There are so many ways we are being impacted by this pandemic. We need to be self-aware and self-compassionate so we can get through it without having lasting wounds. We can even learn a great deal about ourselves that will serve us even after the pandemic is over.
Invitation for Reflection
- Have you noticed a change in your eating habits during the pandemic?
- Are you drawn to specific foods, especially comfort foods?
- Are you able to be self-accepting and self-compassionate? If not, how can you change that?
Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute