Comfort foods – why we crave them

shutterstock_162881573Comfort foods – we think about them at different times in our lives, often when we’re sick, under stress, lonely or when the weather is cold and dreary. We all have our favourites. Yours may be a bag of potato chips, warm and gooey baked macaroni and cheese, warm chocolate brownies…you know your preferences!

Most comfort foods tend to be high in fat, sugar or carbohydrates – it’s the rare individual who craves fresh fruit or vegetables! Giving in to cravings for these types of comfort foods on a frequent basis can have a negative impact on your waistline and health. Recognizing your cravings and understanding them can help you to have strategies for when to give in, and when to find alternatives.

One reason for craving comfort foods may be because you have skipped meals or snacks and your blood sugar is low. Your body will automatically crave sugar and carbohydrates. Eating frequent, small nutritious meals and staying well hydrated can keep these hunger-based cravings at bay.

Cold, dark and dreary days may also have you reaching for high-fat, carbohydrate-packed dishes. This may actually be caused by your ancestral past. Your predecessors needed those extra calories and fat to keep warm! Even with today’s modern indoor heating, your body still experiences that survival urge.

Emotional and habitual based cravings are probably the biggest reasons for craving comfort foods. When you don’t feel good, carbohydrate based foods increase your serotonin levels – those are the “feel good” chemicals in the brain. And you may also reach for foods that you associate with times or people when you felt comfortable and joyful – it becomes a habit of association.

By recognizing what may be causing your craving for a specific comfort food, you can take appropriate steps. Perhaps you can go for a walk in the fresh air or head out to the gym. You can indulge in your favourites, but enjoy smaller portions or make them with healthier ingredients. Or you can substitute other tasty foods that are more nutritious and lower in calories. Understanding is power.