Popular topic we’re going to try and take to the next level.
This research caught our eye ( http://bigthink.com/ideafeed/study-comfort-food-is-a-myth ) from an article at BigThink.com – great site by the way. Ultimately they registered it as a placebo effect…we think they missed the point.
“Although people believe that comfort foods provide them with mood benefits, comfort foods do not provide comfort beyond that of other foods (or no food). These results are likely not due to a floor effect because participants’ moods did not return to baseline levels. Individuals may be giving comfort food “credit” for mood effects that would have occurred even in the absence of the comfort food.”
However in a properly conducted study there must be strict parameters, the tools they measured with did appear to substantiate the conclusion.
“After analyzing questionnaires filled out by the subjects, the researchers determined that similar improvements in mood occurred across the board, independent of what each subject consumed, if they consumed anything at all.”
You can easily imagine that as full time Fitness Clinicians™ we deal with this whole topic as a central issue and on a daily basis, consequently we must either agree or disagree right? We don’t think the study is flawed, we do think we understand the confusion. The reason this deserves a blog post is it defines the very root of nutrition problems and solutions.
So much mainstream fitness and diet centers on people searching for a format, a fixed plan that works for them, one that they can handle which still provides the results they need. We know that such things only work short term and though they help one get on their way a less superficial experience needs to come about or boom most…heck usually all gains are lost.
Are you a failure, weak, cursed, bad genetics or just not committed enough if you can’t eat healthy? A huge key is right here in this whole ‘comfort food’ curiosity. The part we find people get clouded about is that the mental/emotional aspect (which is most of it) is truly intimate. It is tough and we mean really tough to sort this out when talking to a client, what helps is understanding the craving, comfort food problem mechanisms at work.
You see the research isn’t wrong, if you are upset about a work issue or perhaps having serious issues in a relationship, you don’t actually feel better about the problem after eating junk food. Really think about that and you will notice that if you do think it makes you feel better it is short lived and changes nothing. Basically it lets you take a break from the issue for a moment. The reason you get a break isn’t the food it is the satisfaction of expectations and desire fulfilled. Don’t gloss over this or you will stay locked in an almost hypnotic hold crumbling to cravings even when you are trying hard to change your diet.
We all want the fun, enjoyable and expected taste of a particular junk food and we get it…period. It provides a solid an almost perfect hunt/gather and get scenario. It’s distracting, it’s entertaining and it is a ‘this is what I want and I get it’ set up and devour situation.
A different but related analogy is smoking, the workings and such are quite different but we think they may further help this sink right down into where it will matter.
With smoking you face withdrawal from nicotine which is stressful. When you have a smoke you relieve the nicotine withdrawal stress thus it is easy to connect having a smoke with comfort. Over time you make the subtle but strong connection that smoking relieves stress/smoking makes you feel good and you fool yourself enough to become addicted (it provides a stimulant effect as well). This is why so many quit long enough to get rid of the physical addiction but later relapse. Even after all the pain of quitting, sometimes for months even years, people go back to the habit. It’s that strong connection combined with our natural desire to have something guaranteed ‘feelings wise’ about our day.
Now the topic of whether a food can be addictive is a whole other story. There is of course the issue of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine being released in the gut after ingesting carbohydrates and such. The fact is there doesn’t actually need to be a physical addiction here to have a major problem at work. Follow the next part through:
The more you have your junk food the less entertaining it is. You become desensitized, over acclimatized and just don’t feel as strong a bang. The result is often just consuming more…more often, very much like an addict chasing a high. This is because every time you build your expectation it is met but not quite as you remember. You see ultimately it is only the ‘guaranteed outcome’ which is satisfied. If the outcome you want is not as intense as you remember this sets up a catch 22 scenario (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catch-22_(logic) .
Humans have evolved to take food extremely seriously, starvation thus pain and death, has always been right around the corner until recently (at least here in North America). The feeling of starving is an incredibly strong driving force and will take you from the person you are now to a bloodthirsty killer who will eat almost anything given deprivation time. Wanting and getting a particular food experience – yes experience (smell, texture, taste/after taste) then receiving it in full is satisfying to the primal core.
Mix this with habit, low blood sugar from poor nutrition (which the carbs will superficially deal with) and the desire for distraction/control and you have the perfect…ahem, recipe for a diet problem.
So what to do, what to do…what t… The point isn’t just to try to hide from this and try and cling to a fixed format. Sure there are specific things that can and should be done:
- Don’t let your blood sugar get too low.
- Don’t get dehydrated.
- Have real or better food prepared and handy to reach for.
- Leave yourself reminders of your desire for fitness and higher quality living.
- Have a solid support system…reach out to them.
- Have clear preset goals.
- Build new habits which satisfy the reward and expectancy system but with healthier outcomes.
- Seek healthy distractions
- Look for practical solutions to emotional and everyday living problems.
- Make sure junk is not readily available.
There are a host of points not the least of which would be to hire a Fitness Clinician™ of course wink-wink, nudge-nudge. The thing is these types of things like any useful diet plan are all ultimately individual in nature. You and your feelings are human but the levels and combinations (which ebb and flow all the time) are specific to you. The take away here is much like all our posts and that is one of understanding as well as plain old awareness.
When you fully ‘get’ that it is just basic predictable satisfaction and distraction you are looking for it makes it easier to be smart about your choices. Furthermore, when you better understand the mechanisms at work you can get off the guilt train. Bad feelings about poor health choices will only serve to make things worse. The more you see things for what they actually are the less soul crushing stigma you will attach to unhealthy behaviors. Trust us we see it all the time, if you think that scolding yourself will help it is likely failure is going to sneak up on you. If you think it is the mature thing to know and feel that you made bad choices then you will only deepen denial. We cannot outrun or circumvent natural in-born coping mechanisms and you are only making matters worse by heaping on negativity.
Healthy attachments may be tougher to develop but they are clearly worth it, once developed they can be satisfied on command with lasting effect. No question that old habits promote strong urges and are tough to turn off…so don’t bother. Accept these in grained behaviours but do so in your wide-awake mind.
Heck say it out loud and make sure you are fully aware there is a craving there. Don’t hide from it just let it make some noise and lose some steam then do your best to move on. Make a point of knowing yourself, triggers, timeframes etc. Prepare and don’t emotionally tighten up when it hits, just carry on. Should you eat some junk ok not the end of the world but how are you going to change things and create some harm reduction techniques?
Use our blog as a resource, just in the somewhat jokingly titled https://wefit.ca/2014/02/24/the-greatest-fat-lossfitness-advice-you-will-ever-read/ you will find positive news and support about all this. In fact, that IS a simple but strong technique you can implement quite easily:
Before crashing unneeded perhaps unhealthy calories, try to read a suitable blog post (like any of ours ;n) and read it right through, say while drinking a full 8-10 ounces of water. If needed repeat, the time will not be wasted and can help you shake the robotic response cycle.
The bottom line is comfort comes from the predictable nature of a habit acted out (fulfilled). The actual junk food isn’t so much a reward as it is solid proof of controlling outcome. It is completely human to want and need timeout(s) but needing them constantly is a warning sign. Instant gratification is a heck of a short-lived thing to trade for health – make better trades. We don’t have to consume our emotions and adding junk won’t sweeten sour feelings. Express yourself and do so ‘to’ yourself. Let yourself know what is going on and that feelings change and pass. Do your best to avoid cutting down your body with too much junk and skip undercutting your self-esteem.
Until next time, be well.