In times of stress, it’s normal to seek comfort to ease our worries. For some, this might mean soft music and meditation. In contrast, others may prefer to drown their anxieties in liquor and pharmaceuticals—the reality of our human condition dictating the measures we use to comfort ourselves. Most commonly, however, we will seek comfort in our foods.
Throughout COVID-19, I observed dietary trends between friends and clients. Not surprisingly, the choices of foods used during this time of stress appeared to vary drastically.
While this in no way represents an actual experimental design, here are some inferences that may prove useful in future studies seeking to analyze the psychology of eating behavior.
The most obvious difference I took note of was those who opted for slow-cooked meals vs. those who obsessively attacked low nutritional value processed foods.
When comparing apples to apples, such as individuals who had equal amounts of free time in self-isolation, why is there such a vast difference in eating behavior?
Not surprisingly, those who savagely consumed processed foods, take-out orders, fried foods, and confectionaries felt the worst progressively through self-isolation. While those who took the time to prepare slow-cooked nourishing meals appeared to maintain high spirits, steady productivity, and a positive attitude.
Even more apparent was that those who felt worse predominated against those who felt well.
The question that immediately comes to mind here is, what type of neurological priming did we receive in our life to enforce these behaviors in adulthood?
Thus, if stress becomes a trigger to consume foods which make us feel worse, how can we address this as a nation?
While I’m no psychologist, I know that problems in adulthood are often traced back to infancy.
If you are of the millions of standard Canadians or Americans who were raised in a city with working parents, your diet in childhood is known synonymously as the Standard North American Diet (SAD). Cereal for breakfast, bread, buns, milk, packaged foods, sausages, and preserved meats, with little discretion for total consumption.
Let’s contrast this with those who might have been raised with a stay at home parent, a parent of ethnic origin or in a rural/farm setting where high nutritional value meals were the daily standard.
Could the basis of nourishment we obtained in our youths be the underlying factors for our choices when stressed in adulthood?
Whether or not you desire to acknowledge the presence of an inner child, we can’t dismiss the fact that we all have a personal aspect that requires continual nourishment.
In times of sorrow, uncertainty, and fear, our first objective is to seek solace in whatever comforts we can.
Arguably, the way we comfort ourselves as adults tends to be reminiscent of the way we were comforted in our childhood.
Recall the time you might have scraped your knee falling off your first bike ride? You might have gotten a big kiss from mom, followed up with a couple of Oreo cookies and a glass of milk.
Remember your sixth birthday? Were you one of the many children who looked forward to pizza and ice cream cake?
How about when your parents were busy, and you had to prepare food for yourself for the first time? These meals were quick and foolproof options am I not correct? Perhaps something in the ballpark of mac and cheese, microwave dinners, and hamburger helper?
Those who lived with a stay at home parent, an ethnic parent, or in a rural setting likely had an entirely different upbringing. Emphasis on slow and carefully crafted food items is the typical norm in these settings.
What do you notice when you head to a birthday party for a friend of East Indian descent? They serve Indian food.
What about a birthday party for someone raised in rural North America? A dinner most likely consisting of locally raised meats with lots of home-grown vegetables.
What about kids with a stay at home parent who had the time to cook creatively for their family? The family ate with variety in a quest to explore various flavor experiences.
Thus, it might be easier to understand why in adulthood, we opt for vastly different food choices to nurture ourselves. This is especially so during times of stress when the choices we make are sometimes anything but health-promoting.
In understanding our psychological needs for comfort and their connection to our childhood, we can utilize this newfound information to create a better standard for our families.
For those who have struggled over COVID-19, all is not yet lost. Every day serves as an opportunity to live within a higher standard and learn new skills to improve ourselves.
By reinforcing newly developed habits premised on whole-food ‘slow-cooking,’ we can begin the process of recalibrating a new daily standard for generations of children to come.
Finding recipes that reinforce the comforts of our youths is an enjoyable starting point. With a health-conscious mindset, we can seek out recipe books which provide a renewed take on timeless favorites. Danielle Walker is an excellent example of this. She offers recipes free of gluten, dairy, legumes, and refined sugars and makes them taste like North American comfort foods. Check her books out here.
After building some confidence with the home cooking experience, should one seek to become more exploratory.
Ethnic cooking is an entirely different ball game and with that a completely different palate experience. These new dining experiences can build upon a firm dietary foundation, but should not serve as a starting point for those who are unfamiliar. The aromatic nature and new textures can be overwhelming to those who did not grow up on these types of foods.
Ultimately, by experimenting with a diversity of foods, we impose an ever-shifting array of nutrients into our bodies, further reinforcing our health.
By reinforcing the need for conscientiously prepared meals, may we facilitate the development of higher health standards in generations to come.
Contributed by Naomi Sachs, B.Sc., A.C.H.N., PFT
Fully-certified since 2015, Naomi has been successfully coaching clients throughout North America and facilitating their self-growth in the nutrition and fitness realm. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the myriad of health strategies available, her services aim to introduce clarity and self-motivation.