Have your Cake and Eat it Too: Happiness and Comfort Food


Much like yesterday’s post on Daylight Saving Time, and the resultant loss of an hour of sleep, made the subject of yesterday’s post easy to come by, so too does today’s post on food come easy for me. Currently I am in the middle of what I can only describe as a hellacious diet wherein I am forbidden from eating, tasting, or even thinking about anything delicious. 

I’m kidding with my dramatics. It really isn’t that bad. I am beyond privileged to have the ability to eat whatever I want whenever I want. Starvation and nutritional issues are rampant throughout the world and I don’t want to make light of the situation that billions of people find themselves in. Nor do I want anything in this post to come across as dismissive of those issues. 

I am though, currently in the middle of attempting to lose a few pounds in an effort to make weight for an upcoming lifting competition. In order to do so I have completely cut out carbohydrates save for those I consume from vegetables, this of course includes all sugars. As such, I am reminded about how much I miss comfort food and how greatly I look forward to the opportunity to indulge in the near future. 

This got me thinking about the role that food plays in our happiness, which is what I want to write about today. An obvious thought is that we we know that without food we lack the very nutrition and sustenance to survive, so there’s that. We also know that eating a diet that consists mostly of nutritious foods: e.g. healthy meats, fruits, nuts, vegetables and such while avoiding processed foods like corn syrup and preservatives will improve cognitive function, mood, and overall physical health, making us generally happier and healthier. 

Rather than talk to you about the importance of healthy nutrition, I actually wanted to talk about “unhealthy” foods in this post: macaroni and cheese, donuts, cake, pizza etc., I could go on forever. I can’t believe I am writing this, but I actually want to encourage you to eat more of this type of food. The former personal trainer / strength coach in me is going absolutely nuts inside of my head but its true. I want you to eat more of these foods, I want you to enjoy them, and I want you to not feel bad about it. I think that as a society, we too often stress ourselves out with certain foods. We know that these foods aren’t generally good for our health, and that they can cause us to put on a bit of extra weight, but I think that we should be able to enjoy these foods from time to time without feeling shame in doing so because they may cause us to look like anything less than the media worshipped ideal of the human form.


DJ appreciates the occasional indulgence.
I intend to destroy him in pancake eating in 2 weeks

I should go ahead and lay out a few disclaimers. I want you to enjoy all of the above in moderation. If you already indulge excessively or are eating this sort of thing regularly, it may be wise to talk to a physician about healthier eating options. Additionally, if you already suffer from any sort of medical condition that could become exacerbated by such a diet, then I would again urge you to consult a physician. I would also warn against over-indulging, even a single setting, as the sudden sugar crash may leave you feeling crummy. Did you know that the response that sugar triggers in the brain is almost identical to that of cocaine (Avena et al)? That is why such foods give us such a great feeling when we have them and then later result in a strong crash, as we find ourselves depleted of serotonin: one of the feel-good hormones. Knowing that over-consumption of this food will lead to a depressive feeling down the road, I want to again remind you to indulge in moderation. 

The whole point I want to make is that we so often stress ourselves with our eating decisions and I feel that is ultimately unhealthy. Life is short, and the blessings provided within it should be enjoyed. This may be as good as it gets. Do you really want to go through your whole life without enjoying a few pleasures of the tongue? I believe they should be enjoyed and I also believe there should be no shame in it. So, what if it may cause a little bit of bloat? There is no shame in it. Stop worrying about whether or not you have the ideal physique (hint: even those people we think of as perfect do dramatic and extremely unhealthy things to their bodies before a camera catches them shirtless, and most of the resulting photos or films are heavily edited to enhance the appearance, trust me, nobody looks that good). Stop trying to live up to that unrealistic expectation and enjoy the food. I would say that constantly stressing yourself out over your food choices, or being miserable on some “healthy” diet is every bit as unhealthy if not more than the occasional indulgent meal. 

One of the nice things about comfort food is that it is often enjoyed with good company. Sweet treats are a critical part of Danish culture and the concept of Hygge which was discussed in a previous post. I know in my culture in the United States, the most special of occasions are typically celebrated with friends and families and revolve almost exclusively around a, typically very “unhealthy”, meal. Some of my fondest memories in other cultures as well revolve around decadent meals, so I know it isn’t just us hear in the United States who do this. The occasion to celebrate life with good company and good food should not be diminished because we are too strict or too afraid to let go, relax, and enjoy a little bit of the finer things. So have your cake and eat it to, because life is short and should be enjoyed to the fullest. 

My family and I celebrating Christmas 2019, our last extended-group get together.

In conclusion I do want to circle back and re-iterate that I do want to urge moderation as you enjoy your comfort foods. Generally speaking I think a regular diet of meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts and other natural ingredients is the best way to go, this will help ensure a long, healthy, and happy life. Over-indulging in decadent meals will soon take its toll on your physical and mental health, so be forewarned. But so long as you are generally doing the right thing most of the time, I would say it is more than ok, and in fact encouraged to enjoy those quality meals and treats from time to time. If anything, be mindful of how lucky you are to have such a variety of eating options available to you and celebrate this wonderful journey of life. 

Source where I learned of the similar brain activation during sugar and cocaine consumption: 
Avena et. al. Evidence for Sugar Addiction: Behavioral Neurochemical Effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 2008: volume 32. 

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