Why Eating is So Comforting
We’ve all had our moments where all we want to do is… eat. Why do we crave certain foods when we’re sad? Having a tough day? Why do we crave a certain food more if it’s fun to eat? All the crunchy, all the ultra satisfying, melt-in-your-mouth delish.
It comes down to our biology. Why didn't we learn this in high school? We don’t know. Akua Woolbright, PhD, nutrition expert, explained that “we are hardwired to enjoy experiences like eating because it’s essential to our survival as a species”. When we’re hungry, we are more likely to seek out calorie-dense foods as it used to be a useful survival mechanism for our ancestors. For example, there was a time when humans learned to choose between a bunch of bananas and a bunch of berries because bananas would be a larger reward for the time and effort.
Let’s remember - obviously, the way we eat and our scope of food is vastly different. We don’t have to choose between bananas and berries - we’re choosing between bananas and banana filled twinkies. There’s more choices around us all the time, making calorie-dense foods a convenience rather than a thought out decision. Your brain tells you that your body is hungry and that it is time to eat. Katherine Kimber, RD, says that “drive to eat is fueled by a connection between the mind and the body”. There really is a strong biological drive to eat that many of us forget that we have. We finish a biological feedback loop when we eat after our brain tells us to do so. The dopamine begins to release as a messenger involved with reward, motivation, and memory. Sugar is a big one for releasing this dopamine, creating one of the reasons why we crave those comfort foods. We even have an innate sense of comfort with the physical sensations of chewing and swallowing that were developed early in life. If you’ve ever had a craving for lettuce, rice, and chicken - you are the chosen one. Usually, we crave carbs because of a neurotransmitter called Neuropeptide. Remember that one.
Can you remember the food that you ate a certain event or occasion? There’s a lot of nostalgia that is associated with foods. Ooooh yeah, remember those ice creams after games? Chicken noodle soup that hit your throat when you were sick? Our brains are insanely good at linking experiences (good, bad, neutral, all of it). If you had an ugly bout with food poisoning, you have probably created a connection that will keep you away from that food. If you had a pleasant experience with a certain food or it resembled something positive for you in the moment, it is probably wired to give you that experience again.
The good news is that finding pleasure in food can be made into a positive thing. The key is to focus on the knowledge of food that we have and the pleasure we get from it rather than being restrictive.
Try to focus on keeping regular meals, limited restrictions (it creates an ugly cycle) and good amount of fiber and protein to help keep you satiated.
Find comfort in knowing you know why certain foods are comforting!
November 10, 2020