Dark Chocolate and Carvel
Monday started well. I slept in until nine, read the morning news on my Nexus 7 tablet, then used it to write my Monday Smiles post. I showered late then Muri and I went to deliver Meals on Wheels, always a pleasant sort of service. But when picking up our food for delivery at the office, we found that Vicki, one of the office staff, had passed away from cancer. Seeing her smiling face looking at us from an In Memoriam card on the bulletin board instead of behind her desk cast a pall over what had started out as a lovely day. We had lunch at Corner Bakery then headed home because temperatures were in the nineties, too hot for the park. Let’s just say that shortly after we got home, the day went completely to hell. I’ll say nothing more than this about what happened – no one is sick or hurt. The events are personal and only relevant to this post in that an afternoon sitting in the too-hot park with Muri managed only to soften my anger and sharpen my sadness. When I settled in this evening to let NBA basketball and dumb-ass movies distract me, I suddenly felt a need for a treat, something sweet to figuratively sweeten the day. And that is the topic of this post on Top Sites Tuesday #252, where I get to offer Two Thoughts on Tuesday – Comfort Foods. I drove to the local Target and bought a Ghiradelli Dark Chocolate Bar with Sea Salt and Almonds. Yes, dark chocolate is one of my comfort foods when I’m sad. Other possibilities are soft serve vanilla ice cream, preferably Carvel, or a McDonald’s Vanilla Shake. Are comfort food ever good for you, other than psychologically? Are they even good for you psychologically? My chocolate bar helped but that may be because it was accompanied by several glasses of Apothic Red wine.
So, with a Tuesday post to write … and not in the mood to be funny or curmudgeonly (or both, as is sometimes the case) … I decided to do a little research on the psychology of comfort foods. And what I discovered is that there’s not much agreement on why we crave certain comfort foods and whether they actually comfort us. According to Psychology Today, the most frequently named comfort foods in the United States are apple pie, baked beans, beef stew, chicken soup, fried chicken, green bean casserole, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, meatloaf, pot roast, pudding (whether chocolate or tapioca), pumpkin pie, tomato soup, and tuna casserole. I can you tell for certain, I’ve never reached for any one of these foods to be comforted and I’ll never reach for tuna noodle casserole for any reason, starvation included. According to How Stuff Works, psychological studies have shown that the comfort foods we crave are actually artifacts from our pasts. We all have memories of happier times, and by eating foods that remind us of those times, we symbolically consume that past happiness. So, maybe Carvel and McDonald’s milkshakes bring me back to outings with Mom and Dad. And dark chocolate reminds me of the thrill of lifting a Hershey’s Dark Chocolate Bar from the local candy store after school. Only kidding, only kidding (mostly). PsychCentral says comfort foods are a temporary chemical fix akin to cocaine and … not surprisingly … shape.com says that the remorse you feel for eating poorly actually makes your mood worse. I’ll offer Thought Number One as a question: There’s nothing like consensus to clarify a subject, is there?
The Cornell University Food and Brand Lab that only 40% of people queried reported that their comfort foods were healthy, with potato chips heading the list. They must have talking to a different crowd than Psychology Today. Cornell also said that women reported their top three comfort foods to be ice cream, chocolate, and cookies, while men chose ice cream, soup and pizza/pasta. That’s just one more bit of evidence that I may have an extra X chromosome kicking around somewhere. A study on the Association for Psychological Science website says that Comfort food can serve as a ready-made, easy resource for remedying a sense of loneliness but an article on PsychCentral asks Is Comfort Food Causing Your Depression? People are turning to this highly processed, commercially produced fast-food that is drowning in sugar, fat, and salt in part because they are looking for the “quick fix” of that fleeting chemical high, the article says. But, in reality, the after-effects of such cheap and poor-quality food is leading them down the road to depression. That is truly depressing. I think I need some more dark chocolate. In another PsychCentral article, Elvira Alletta calls comfort food her crack cocaine. Please. And, of course, warnings of obesity and high blood sugar abound.
Here’s what I think … Thought Number Two … Comfort foods work for me and they’re probably better than a couple of Xanax. Unless we have specific medical reasons to avoid certain foods, a brief foray into unhealthy eating to reduce stress may be better than living with stress. Sometimes what we need is a quick fix until we get our feet back under us again and as long as we don’t do it every day, we’re fine. That’s probably heresy in these days of absolutist thinking but I get to be a heretic at my age. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to find a piece of cinnamon coffee cake. All this conflicting psychology depresses me. Yes, anything with cinnamon works for me, too.
What are your favorite comfort foods? Please take a moment to push my button … gently … to make me Number One on Top Sites Tuesday #252. And to those readers that know me … every one’s OK … and to those that don’t, there’s more than a little curmudgeon in these opinions, so don’t take them too seriously. Thanks for reading.
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