Have a great day - eat something healthy.

Monday, January 31, 2011

There's No Such Thing as Comfort Food

The other day I saw a commercial showing two kids dressed in soccer wear sitting on the staircase at one of the kids’ houses. Their hair is matted down with sweat and they’re talking about the game they’ve obviously just finished. One says to the other, “Winning is my favorite thing.” The other says in a monotone voice, “We lost today.” Enter Mom, presenting a cutting board holding a thick, doughy pizza sliced into sixths. The boys each take a slice and the first kid says, “No, we didn’t.” They grin at each other and chomp into their slices as the music comes fades in.

What a message this is sending! To kids, to parents, to everyone! Here’s a kid whose favorite thing in the world is winning but he’s just lost. Most people would be pretty unhappy about that, right? But, miraculously, a piece of pizza makes it all go away.

And that’s the message. That food can make a bad situation better. That food can make an issue disappear. That food takes away the pain. And that food is even better than your “favorite thing.” We get those messages early and often while we’re growing up. And it doesn’t stop when we’re adults.

Cut to any chick flick – when the inevitable breakup occurs, what does the heroine do? Crack a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. Our girl next door has taken those lessons she learned as a child an applied them to her adult life – turning to food as a source of solace.

But don't messages like these encourage a behavior pattern that sets us up for food addiction? If we turn to food to deal with unfavorable circumstances what really happens? We fill up with sugary, starchy or fat-laden foods that numb and dumb us down. And we avoid whatever issue it is that has gotten us to this point in the first place. But long after we’ve filled our guts the emptiness remains, the issue is still unresolved and it will stay that way until we face it head on.

Let’s take our scenarios down the rabbit (or donut) hole. Soccer Kid eats pizza after losing; he feels full and doesn’t go back outside to practice (like many kids do while still in uniform right after a game). His technique doesn’t improve so he loses the next game. He eats more pizza. And on it goes until he can’t get off the bench. So he resigns himself to playing video games in his bedroom. While eating pizza.

And how about Break-up Girl? Her spoon hits the bottom of the ice cream container and she's still rarin’ to go. A few pints later and she’s high, depressed and still hungry (because that’s the insidious nature of sugar). She continues to comfort herself with fattening food until the zippers on her clothes no longer glide up or down. Soon, calls from potential suitors grind to a halt. And she holes up in her apartment, turning the pages of Cosmo with Cheetos-stained fingers.

I’m no Tiger Mother but I do know that Soccer Kid isn’t going to win unless he spends more time concentrating on soccer. And rather than wolfing down a pizza, he’d be better served by spending some time analyzing and practicing the game. That way he could have a better chance of getting his “favorite thing” next time. And Break-up Girl should put down the spoon, pick up a self-help book and learn why she makes bad choices in men or has no self-esteem. That way she might have a happy ending in her next romance.

Here’s the deal – life sucks at times. There’s no getting around it. But if you face whatever sucks at the moment, you can deal with it, change it, and move on. Food is NEVER the answer. You are.

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