Comfort food is, well, comforting. When life kicks your butt, high-reward food (like 🎂 cupcakes, 🍦 ice cream, 🍟 fries, etc.) makes you feel much, much better. Unfortunately, our modern environment makes comfort food one of the most convenient ways to “deal” with stress. If we’re not proactive this self-medication can pack on 5-10 pounds a year, every year.
Social animals, like humans, stress each other out. To study the effects of stress on a group of monkeys researchers only have to wait. It’s only a matter of time before the mean monkeys start harassing/intimidating the others to remind them who is in charge. This is not unlike school or work.
What Does This Have To Do With Food?
After an incident of harassment/distress is when all animals and people seek comfort. When monkeys only have access to basic monkey chow, they eat less when they are stressed and seek other ways to comfort themselves. However, if the researchers give them access to chocolate shakes, chips, etc. they eat more. Way more.
We humans are exactly the same. When comfort (a.k.a. high-reward) food is within arms reach we will eat a lot of it as a way to soothe ourselves.
Are Cupcakes Better Than Sex?
No. Of all the ways social animals can deal with stress sex is actually the most effective. We will get to a list of other ideas later.
How Can You Apply This?
Putting this info to work is like the spare tire in your trunk. You don’t have that tire in your trunk because you plan on running over a nail today. You have a spare tire because you know that if you wait until you actually need it, then you’re screwed.
- Don’t stress about stress. Stress is an important and normal part of caring about things and people, and the byproduct of pushing yourself to do anything new or challenging. Remember that stress does not make you fat. For 99.99% of human history stress made us eat less and lose weight.
- Create effort barriers. While you may be able to resist temptation at your best this article is about when you are at your worst. Like the flat tire it is a matter of when not if. Use the 20 second rule.
- Take care of yourself. This is like getting your oil changed, and checking your tire pressure. The 2 most powerful ways you can buffer yourself against overwhelming stress are sleep and regular exercise.
- Make a short list of alternatives. Just like we need oxygen, water and food, we also need ways to soothe ourselves. Sure, you can suppress this need for short periods of time, but willpower only lasts so long. It’s more productive to find and practice non-food ways to scratch that itch.
Here are some ideas to get you going. Just remember two things: (1) you don’t need a long list (2-3 that work for you is plenty), and (2) if you have something that works for you that isn’t on the list please post in the comments. If it works without adding calories, it’s a great idea.
- Talking to someone – call or talk face to face to share your feelings and/or struggles. Putting words to feelings, and being reminded that you’re not alone are powerful.
- Bubble bath
- Bonus workout
- Playing – with pets, kids, or whatever
- Adult coloring books – not NSFW (unless that’s your thing), but there are coloring books for adults, and we’ve had several clients who find them very soothing.
- Other arts and crafts – other creative, absorbing tasks like knitting, painting, solving a puzzle, etc. If it’s something you can get into, then it will probably help.
- Cleaning – I was surprised to find that this works well for me.
- Walking – extra bonus if you can go for a walk with someone and talk about what’s upsetting you.
- Music and dancing
- Journal – putting words to your feelings is powerful.