What is Comfort Food?

What is Comfort Food?

When someone mentions Comfort Food, the first thing that pops into my mind is sugar. That would be followed with a lot of unhealthy snacks, high carbs and fat food. And then when I really really think hard I probably decide that Sunday Roast or Barbecue can be categorised as comfort food too.

And minutes later, I would start thinking… are those food going to give me comfort? Why? I don’t think those food would make me fee comfortable at all… If I am seeking for comfort, I would probably go for a bowl of egg drop soup like one my grandmother used to make when I was a little girl. Or a plain vanilla lolly ice cream — but that’s not really comforting in winter to be honest.

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But egg drop soup is not sugary. Not high in carbs. Not particularly salty. It’s not heavy. It’s just warm and eggy. But nevertheless it made me immensely at home and happy.

So that should be a definition of comfort food, right? But my nan’s eggdrop soup is low calorie, low carb, and actually pretty healthy food. In fact, I am pretty sure every chicken soup every nan in this world has made for their loved ones when they’re ill should be considered as comfort food too… right?

That made me think… wait a minute. Comfort food is not… bad? Why have we antagonised this nice fellow all this time? Time to call the scientists…

According to this article:

The term comfort food refers to those foods whose consumption provides consolation or a feeling of well-being. Foods, in other words, that offer some sort of psychological, specifically emotional, comfort.

Comfort food can be those that can release dopamine — yes those sugary, fatty things can actually make you feel happy because it releases happy hormones. But, it can also be food that have the nostalgic value — I kid you not… this is the scientist talking *gasp*.

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No wonder it’s the eggdrop soup for me, because it always reminds me of my grandma.

Anyway… Drawing it further to the definition of comfort food… it can also be something that makes you feel connected to people you love. Not necessarily nostalgia. For example, for my husband, my banana muffin is HIS comfort food. Because even if he is feeling stressed at work, he can enjoy a bit of ‘home’ when he is eating the banana muffin I made for him.

It can be something else… like a big bowl of macaroni cheese which was ‘our go to food’ when we were still boyfriend-girlfriend. Actually that makes me feel mushy too… maybe I shall make one tonight for supper *blush*.

Anyway… back to the scientists… Now this article starts getting interesting:

Importantly, it was not just the foods that differed by gender, differences were also identified in those situations that were likely to elicit comfort eating (see Wansink, Cheneym,&Chan, 2003). Based on the results of a web-based survey of 277 participants (196 female and 81 male), loneliness, depression, and guilt were all found to be key drivers of comfort eating for women, whereas the men questioned typically reported that they ate comfort food as a reward for success (e.g., when they were feeling upbeat; see also Dubé et al., 2005). So, while the clichéd view may well be that people reach for comfort food when their mood is low, the evidence reported by Wansink and Sangerman (2000) suggests instead that comfort foods are consumed when people find themselves in a jubilant mood (86%), or else when they want to celebrate or reward themselves for something (74%)

NO WAY! This has given me a whole new perspective why people overeat during Christmas. Especially Christmas 2020. I have to say, reading this article actually made me feel slightly giddy.

I have known comfort food since forever, and I always think of it as something bad… something to be ashamed of. And apparently it doesn’t have to be that way.

Comfort eating has earned its bad rep because in some people (or many of them) this is associated to emotional eating which then lead to food addiction or binge eating disorder. Which then lead to weight gain. So, people has jumped the logic from ‘comfort eating’ to ‘weight gain’ without seeing how it is related.

photo of woman wearing gray sweater
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I am actually happy to read this particular journal. Not because I need a validation for my food choice, but it is important to fix our relationship with food.

When we blame comfort food as the reason for us gaining weight, we forgot that the responsible party is the person who bring that food to our mouth… The food itself is innocent, because your comfort food is not MY comfort food. Cake is never my comfort food but apparently is for so many people in Britain. So cake is not the problem… it is how we lose control on the intake.

There you go… comfort food is not the bad guy. It’s the misunderstood nice guy — just trying to make you happy, but instead being seen as the creepy one. Love your comfort food. Moderate.

Love,

Mel x

The interesting articles can be found here:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1878450X16300786 << best one here

https://nutritionfornonnutritionists.com/2020/05/the-science-of-comfort-foods/

https://theconversation.com/the-psychology-of-comfort-food-why-we-look-to-carbs-for-solace-135432

https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/the-science-of-why-you-crave-comfort-food.html

9 thoughts on “What is Comfort Food?

  1. No food is bad… it can be consumed in excessive quantities but sometimes that is necessary too.

    Weight gain is not inherently bad either, weight gain as well as weight loss are part of life, they are part of the body’s reaction to things which can be intrinsically linked to mood or situation or a myriad other things.

    Weight gain has been pegged as the worst thing that can happen to a person for a long time, it is part of diet culture’s method of control and ultimately a tool to make money from a miserable population.

    1. Sure 🙂 I just need to lose weight myself, so this kind of reflects how I personally approach food 🙂 xx

  2. Hey Mel,
    This is such a great post. You’re totally right about the way in which we’ve been led to see “comfort food” as a negative, when in reality it can just as easily be a non-junk food source of pleasure. I’ve never really been an emotional eater, but the one kind of comfort eating I can totally relate to, is the type of food we automatically reach for when we’re ill. If I have a cold I automatically want my mum’s chicken soup! Made from the stock of a chicken carcass and containing a bunch of veg, split peas, lentils and a bunch of other stuff I never figured out (I’m not a cook, so yeah, lol) it’s an incredibly healthful, tasty, hot, soothing meal that I remember very fondly from my childhood. I always want that when I’m all snot-nosed and shivering with a cold. It’s not just that it tastes good and has good nutritional qualities, as you said it really does evoke feelings of being taken care of. And that’s not a bad association to make.

    Obviously, if someone takes their desire for their own particular comfort food to the extreme, so that they’re using it as an emotional crutch resulting in some kind of binge-eating disorder, then that’s not a good thing. But again you’re right. It’s not the food itself, but the relationship the individual has with food entirely.

    Oh and I had to laugh at this sentence you wrote:

    “There you go… comfort food is not the bad guy. It’s the misunderstood nice guy — just trying to make you happy, but instead being seen as the creepy one.”

    I am so going to use that in future, I swear. Totally spot on! Lol!

    Really glad to see you posting again – for some reason you don’t turn up in my WordPress Reader list, but now I know you’re back I’ll be sure to keep on swinging by to see what you have to say.

    All the best

    Blue

    1. Thank you Blue 😀
      I just realised how much I have antagonised comfort food while all it was trying to do was making me feel better lol. I realised more and more since I blogged last year that most of the problem with food related health problem is either the lack of knowledge or the broken relationship with food. From both extreme ends of eating disorders, to the struggles to eat well…

      Ooh I maybe there’s something wrong with my jetpack again, I’ll check why it doesn’t pop up on readers. Thankyou for letting me know <3 x

  3. Absolutely love this post about comfort food 🙂 Like you, one of mine reminds me of my Nana – dhal (lentils) and rice – a healthy, nutritious choice 🙂

    1. Regardless what we say about Mums being the best cook in the world, Nans always have this special legendary place 🙂

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