It may come as no surprise that the number one comfort food is pizza. But do you know that the second most popular comfort food is soup?
I know! I was surprised too. According to MarketWatch, who did the market analyses, the harsh winter of 2021 was responsible for the results.
Without a doubt comfort eating is the number one stress management technique. But when it can help us during a stressful situation, eating highly processed comfort food is often linked to weight gain, obesity or even diabetes. What if I could tell you that there is healthy comfort food?
Interested? Then read on to find out how stress influences your eating habits, what to do about it, and find out some healthy comfort food swaps.
How does stress influence your eating habits
Have you ever reached out for food when you were stressed? Or maybe you had to deal with a difficult situation and without even knowing you found yourself finishing a pack of biscuits?
There is a distinction between being a stress eater and eating when you are stressed. Stress eating also called emotional eating is a coping mechanism you use to make yourself feel better. When you are a stress eater you simply use food to avoid dealing with whatever is happening in your life.
Emotional eating typically is not a response to physical hunger, but rather a response to your feelings. When you eat to suppress your emotions, what you need to address is the root cause of why you feel the way you do.
But you may be reaching out for comfort food just because you are stressed or under a lot of pressure. When your fight or flight response, also called stress response, is triggered, your biochemistry changes.
Your body also shuts down all functions that are not necessary for your immediate survival, such as digestion. You may still eat when you are stressed but this is not because you are hungry, but rather because of the hormonal cocktail stress initiated.
Personally, when I’m stressed, I cannot look at food. I often think that my internal switch for the digestive system must be broken. Because I can go hours and hours without food when I experience stress.
You may think that this is a great weight loss method, but actually, it isn’t. Lack of food will give you headaches, and low energy or you may develop anaemia or possibly an eating disorder.
Therefore, reaching for something to eat that is easy, quick and tasty can help you with getting through tough times.
Unfortunately, most of the time when you are stressed, you reach out for comfort food which is not all that healthy. Now. Not all comfort food is bad. It gets a bad rap because of the high saturated and trans fats, salt, and refined sugar.
But you can change what you eat once you understand what your body needs when you’re stressed.
What to do about your eating
It’s natural that when you are under stress and feel overwhelmed you look for comfort. And when you face a stressful situation or want to unwind at the end of the day food can give you that comfort.
Now, stress is a survival mechanism, and it cannot be stopped. Even if you don’t have a major catastrophe happening in your life right now, sooner or later you will experience stress. You are human and stress is a natural response.
Unfortunately, when you are stressed, your logical side of the brain is shut down and your emotions drive your actions. And it is hard to make a healthy food choice when you are overcome with sadness, loneliness, or frustration.
At that moment kale doesn’t look all that beneficial, doesn’t it?
That is why you need to have your favourite healthy comfort food ready to go! If you stock up on healthy snacks, you will have less chance of reaching for products high in unhealthy fats and refined sugars.
You see when your fight or flight response, aka stress response, is triggered a number of chemical processes happen inside your body. And you start producing the stress hormone adrenaline to help you get out of the tricky situation.
Adrenaline signals your body that you need a quick shot of energy. And for that your body uses carbohydrates. Because used carbohydrates need to be replaced you crave sugary foods when you are under stress.
Comfort foods to pick
Now you know that the easiest way to swap your unhealthy comfort food for a healthy option is to load up on healthy carbohydrates. It is also good to eat plenty of healthy fats because they keep you satiated for longer.
The obvious healthy snack is nuts, seeds, and fruit, but if you want something more substantial here are my 3 top options for super healthy comfort food.
#1 Hummus with carrots
Hummus is not only one of the most popular dips, but it is packed with healthy fats and proteins. It is very common, and you can always have it ready in the fridge.
And when you use it with carrots you have a super healthy comfort food combo! Carrots are a great vegetable, and you should eat them, but you also need to know that almost 50% of the total carbohydrates in carrots is sugar.
Now, this is not processed sugar, but naturally occurring sugar (sucrose, glucose, and fructose) which your body requires for healthy functioning. Nevertheless, your body can process it and replace the carbohydrates that were used during your stress response.
#2 Baked Basmati Rice
One of my go-to all-time comfort foods is baked basmati rice. The original recipe comes from the amazing Israeli chef – Ottolenghi.
In his recipe, you bake the basmati rice with shallots, cherry tomatoes, and cinnamon sticks. The sweetness of the onion and tomatoes combined with the earthiness of cinnamon is divine. In addition, you have the carbohydrates kick from the rice.
The recipe is so simple that you can double it up and freeze the leftovers to have them ready when you need them next.
#3 Pumpkin Soup
After reading the market research conducted by MarketWatch, I couldn’t stop myself from including soup in the choice of healthy comfort foods! LOL
I like pumpkin soup because it is so easy to make. You grill fresh pumpkin, with some ginger and onion and blend it all together. You can have a pumpkin soup ready in less time than waiting for pizza delivery.
Pumpkin is also high in natural sugars (aka carbohydrates). And by adding ginger, you help to boost your immune system which gets suppressed during the stress response. For some extra healthy fats, you can top it up with pepitas.
How to get started with healthy comfort food when you’re stressed
Stress is a biological response, and it can’t be eliminated. So, when you know that it will happen, why not be prepared and stock up on your favourite comfort food?
When you are under stress, your body uses predominantly carbohydrates. Any used carbohydrates need to be replaced, meaning that when the stress is at its peak you will crave sugar.
My 3 top go-to healthy comfort foods are hummus with carrots, baked basmati rice and pumpkin soup. Which one of the healthy comfort food ideas will you use next time you’re stressed?