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Eating Clean in a Pandemic: Comfort Food

Updated: May 1, 2020

We could all use some comfort right now, am I right? Emotions are high as we cope with the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic. When we feel anxious, scared, sad, etc, it is natural to want to reach for "comfort food" to take away some of the pain. We've all been there... it's a normal coping strategy, but it can be very detrimental to our health if it leads to overeating harmful foods. Here are my tips for enjoying comfort food as well as some of my favorite, healthy choices!


WHY DO WE CRAVE COMFORT FOOD?


What is it about some food that make us feel happy and relaxed? As I thought about this question, I realized there are three qualities that make comfort food so appealing.


1. Warm: Experiences that raise our body temperature are soothing. Examples include a warm bubble bath, cuddling up in a blanket, the sauna, sitting by a fire, and sunbathing on the beach. These things make us feel warm, cozy, and relaxed. We can use hot food/drinks to gain this same sensation, which is why warm cookies, fresh baked bread, soup, tea, and coffee improve our mood. They "warm our soul."


2. Reminiscent: Our brain is always making connections, so when an experience is associated with happy memories, it makes us feels good! Food is a big part of many positive experiences like special occasions, holidays, birthdays, and other celebrations. Also, did you know that smell is the sense most closely linked to memories? Just the smell of certain foods will boost your mood. Considering both of these things, it's no wonder that we reach for comfort food to make us feel better when we are feeling down. It reminds us of good times with family and friends, childhood meals at home, and special relationships.


3. Filling: Another quality associated with comfort food is that it's filling. The more carbs, sugar, and fat, the better... right?! The feeling of being "full" in a metaphorical sense makes us feel happy. Think of phrases like "my cup runneth over" or "my heart is full." We say them when we feel happy, loved, and fulfilled. When we can't get that experience in other ways, we try to emulate the sensation by eating something full of carbs, fat and sugar so we feel full.


Once we are more aware of why certain foods bring comfort, we can look for healthy options that still have those qualities. Here are some of my favorites!


Satisfy your Sweet Tooth!


1. Do you love ice cream? Try making Nice Cream instead! All you need is a blender, frozen/fresh fruit, and plant-based milk. The combinations are ENDLESS!! My only recommendation is to include banana to make it extra creamy. This is one of my favorite recipes: Pink Dragon Fruit Nice Cream.


2. Chocolate lover? How about chocolate hummus! You can find homemade chocolate hummus recipes online or buy it pre-made at your local grocery store. Dip strawberries, grapes, bananas, pretzels or my favorite: pop chips!


3. Need something extra filling? Energy bites are one of my family's go-to breakfasts, but they are also perfect for a snack or dessert. They're sweet, satisfying and healthy to boot! You mix together oats, seeds, sweetener, cacao nibs, etc., press it into a casserole dish or roll it into balls, and then freeze. Check out my basic recipe on instagram.


4. For something quick and easy, make a fancy fruit bowl. Chop it up and add toppings to your fruit to make it fun and interesting! Think coconut flakes, dairy-free chocolate chips, cacao nibs, vanilla extract, nuts, coconut sugar, etc. Heat it and make it even more comforting! Tap Here for an example!


Craving Something Salty?!


1. Tortilla Chips with salsa or guacamole. My favorite combination is organic blue corn tortilla chips and fresh guacamole, but you really can't go wrong with chips and dip... unless you eat the entire bag, of course! And for that reason, I recommend serving yourself a plate of chips with a portioned amount of dip.


2. Homemade Trail Mix. This is as simple as throwing together whatever nuts, seeds, and dried fruit you have in your pantry! Cacao nibs and coconut flakes are good options also. If you like it extra salty, you can sprinkle it with some pink Himalayan salt. Check out an example of what I like in mine.


3. Rice Cake with Nut Butter. Crunchy, salty, and clean... rice cakes are a great snack option! Make them more filling by spreading on some almond or peanut butter. You can get creative with other toppings as well. Yum!


4. Veggies and hummus. Now I know this doesn't really sound like a comfort food, BUT sometimes when you're craving salt... fresh, crispy carrot sticks and tasty hummus can hit the spot! Perhaps it is reminiscent of summer cookouts or family pitch ins! And if you make it look fancy, it really adds to the experience of satisfaction.


Reaching for ALL THE CARBS??

1. Pizza is the ultimate comfort food for many people. Make your pizza plant-based! All you have to do is order it without cheese, add extra sauce, and choose whatever veggie toppings you like. Pizza minus animal products is still extremely indulgent and delicious. I have been ordering mine this way for about three years, and I never feel like I'm missing out!

2. Make a big bowl of pasta with vegan cheez sauce, plant-based alfredo or marinara. Seriously, if you are craving something warm and full of carbs, noodles will hit the spot! There are many plant-based mac n cheez, alfredo, and red sauce recipes you can try, or you can use store-bought options.


3. How about some chili? It's warm, spicy, and reminiscent of a crisp Fall day. Full of carbs and protein, vegan chili is a great way to satisfy your craving for something hearty and it's guaranteed to warm your soul. I use my mom's recipe, but replace the ground beef with textured vegetable protein.

4. Potatoes! Potatoes get a bad reputation, but they can actually be quite healthy if prepared the right way. You can bake them and load them with your favorite healthy toppings, roast them with delicious spices, or make homemade fries in your air fryer. Here's one of my favorite ways to enjoy potatoes.


Want a Fun Drink?


1. Have warm tea! There are SOOOO many fun flavors of tea. Buy one or two that excite you and cozy up on the couch with your favorite mug of soothing tea!


2. How about a smoothie?! Invest in some clean, tasty chocolate or vanilla vegan protein powder and get out your blender! If you prefer something lighter, leave out the protein and just use your favorite fruit, plant-based milk, ice, and a handful of spinach/greens. The healthiest milkshakes around!


3. Drink flavored water. Make your water more fun by infusing it with cucumber slices, lemon, lime, or other fruit. Sometimes I even throw in a little apple cider vinegar! Pretend you're at the spa and enjoy your delicious water... now that's comfort!


4. Try something bubbly. There are many brands of naturally flavored carbonated water! Some of my favorites are coconut and passion fruit. Another option is kombucha, which is fermented tea. It's cold, bubbly and refreshing, and BONUS! It's good for your gut because it contains probiotics.


Now, once you've decided what comfort food to eat, let's look at how to do so in a healthier way.


HOW TO ENJOY COMFORT FOOD IN A HEALTHY WAY


1. Take Time to Prepare Your Food. Eat something that takes some prep work. When we have to go through a process to prepare our food, it slows us down, gives us time to process how we're feeling, and helps us look forward to what we are about to eat. Try making "Grandma's Chocolate Chip Cookies" or "Aunt Mae's Pasta Salad." It will bring you a sense of accomplishment and bring back awesome memories. Even something simple like taking plain yogurt, sprinkling it with granola/sliced bananas, and drizzling it with maple syrup. The effort you put into preparing your food will add to your overall happiness when you dig in! Treat it as an experience rather than just haphazardly stress eating.


2. Be Mindful While You're Eating. Mindless eating will not make us feel happy. I know it is tempting to just grab a bag of chips, sit down on the couch, and watch television while paying zero attention to what you're eating. BUT this is not good for our physical or mental health. Instead, I encourage you to be mindful and pay attention to the experience of what you're eating. Savor each bite. Focus on the flavors, textures, temperature, etc. Let your mind drift to your happy place or whatever memory the food might elicit. It will make the experience more satisfying, and you'll be more aware of how you feel as you are eating.


3. Reflect on the Experience Afterward. Once you've finished your delicious treat, think about the entire experience of preparing and eating it. What first triggered your desire to eat comfort food? How did you feel while preparing it? What were you thinking about as you ate? How do you feel now that you're done? Gaining this insight will be helpful the next time you're feeling down and start to feel a craving coming on. You'll have a better idea of how to respond in the healthiest way possible.


In conclusion, eating comfort food improves our mood because it's warm, reminds us of happy memories, and makes use feel full. To best serve our wellness, we can find healthy food options that have these same qualities. Then consider the bigger picture of your experience by taking time to prepare your food, being mindful while eating, and reflecting afterward.


As always, my goal is to empower you to take control of your health, because it is SO IMPORTANT, now more than ever. Please contact me if you would like personalized assistance with your healthy journey!






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