How to Comfort Yourself Without Food

icecream2Photo courtesy of Robert S. Donovan

Food, glorious food.

I’m looking at you, Ben. You too, Jerry. And your little multi-colored friends that beg me to find out if they melt in my mouth.

I tend to eat when happy, or in celebration. Because I’m so blissed out about my life, this means I’ve been eating a lot, and finding reasons to “celebrate” entirely too often. While I can’t complain about my happiness level being off the charts, I realized that I do need to get my food to activity ratio back in balance, or risk never being able to zip a pair of jeans ever again.

I didn’t think there was any psychology behind why I eat what I do, unless Deliciology has become an official line of study. I know it’s within my power to eat less, but I decided to look for some tips that would help me make the right choices. As usual, what I found was so interesting that I thought you guys might like to know what I learned.

As I suspected, certain foods definitely do have the ability to enhance our feelings of joy when we’re already happy. What is interesting is that there appears to be an actual, physiological reaction that occurs when we eat foods high in saturated fats, that explains why we crave what we do. Additionally, one study in particular discovered that the simple presence of saturated fat in the stomach not only enhanced positive emotions, but also cheered up those participants who were depressed. Participants who ingested saturated fat also handled difficult situations much better than the participants whose stomachs were filled with saline solution.

Here’s the kicker: the participants weren’t exposed to the smell, sight or taste of fat-laden food – they simply had saturated fat or saline solution tube-fed directly into their stomachs and were then asked to perform certain tasks. Those with bellies full of fat experienced a much easier time dealing with negative feelings like loss, guilt and sadness.

Though the study was relatively small, the physicians and psychologists conducting it have ascertained that ingesting saturated fat triggers the release of hormones that positively stimulate the brain.

It’s not just the yummy-deliciousness that makes us feel better, then! If saturated fats make us able to handle stress better, we should give our bodies what they want!

Except, no.

It’s true that a huge bowl of creamy macaroni and cheese may send out some signals to your brain, telling it that everything’s A-ok, but what happens after you digest that mac-n-cheese? Do you reach for the peanut butter cup ice cream sundae?

You could, and many certainly do, but eventually you’ll end up unhealthy and unhappy. Perhaps there are some people who are overweight and legitimately happy about it, but their hearts are still working extra hard to carry that extra weight around, happy or not.

Instead of feeding your sorrows or making up fake reasons to justify buying another irresistible sheet cake from Costco, turn to your inner senses, like smell, sound, and sight. In  50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food, Susan Albers, PsyD., teaches how to tell the difference between “emotional hunger” and actual hunger by focusing on real world mindfulness techniques that will help you relax and enjoy life to the fullest without depending on food.

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