What do you think of when you hear comfort food? French fries, mac’ n cheese, apple pie? What defines comfort food for us depends on our culture, our upbringing and on our childhood memories. Food is nourishment, food is vitamins and minerals- food is medicine.  But, food also represents comfort, tradition, family and love.

Think back to the last time you indulged in comfort food. Likely, the first few bites were decadent. But after the first few bites, that wow feeling waned and you were left consuming more and more, in an attempt to chase that wow.  In order to maintain that initial feeling of euphoria we get from eating decadent food we are prompted to eat more and more and more often to the point of feeling overly full, bloated, tired or lethargic. 

If we really think about it, it really isn’t so comfortable in the end. 

But don’t blame yourself. This is physiologic. In fact, it is a human mind trick.  We have reward centers in the brain that are triggered when we eat.  For example, sugar and fat trigger the same parts in our brain that get stimulated by certain drugs and by alcohol. Eating these foods will result in a release of dopamine, the brain chemical that is responsible for a feeling of ease and wellbeing. And the more we consume, the more we need to consume in order to release dopamine. This is what makes the eating of such foods habitual. 

We can question our beliefs about comfort food and notice when we do go down the path of over-indulging, that we actually do not feel very comfortable at all. Excessive amounts of high sugar, high fat foods usually leaves us feeling drained, fatigued and in a brain fog. On the other hand, when we eat the good stuff- fruits and vegetables, unprocessed foods, high quality carbohydrates, grains and legumes- we feel good, we feel comfortable. So how about we redefine comfort food?