Comfort food isn’t all that comforting… It’s comfortable to our taste buds, but not to our bodies.

It’s like the mean kid in high school — no matter how bad it is for us, we still wanna be friends with it. But there’s no denying it’s natural. When we’re stressed out or upset, we want something tasty that will calm us down and make us feel good.

But what is it about those salty, cheesy or chocolaty goods that leave us feeling fulfilled?

Researchers have spent years studying the effects of “comfort foods” on the brain, and psychological studies have found that comfort foods are really just “artifacts from our past.”

Food Is Celebratory.

From a birthday party to Christmas and Thanksgiving, food is synonymous with celebrations. It’s often the source or reason for a family gathering — and iced cake or steamy mashed potatoes will transport us to those happy memories.

Food Is Tradition.

Our relationship with food is established throughout the course of our lives. Often the foods we eat when happy or sad correlate to what we were given in our childhoods. It turns out that comfort foods are unique to each individual, based on our own life experiences.

However, a 2005 Cornell University survey found that the foods we associate with comforting or happy emotions often vary by gender. Surveying 277 men and women, they found women tend to prefer sweet and sugary foods, while men opt for savory foods like steak and soup.

This same survey discovered that men typically use comfort foods as a reward, while women feel guilty after overindulging.

Food Is Emotional.

Like a lot of things in life, emotions dictate our food desires. Because of these powerful memories and emotions attached to certain foods, the ties can be strong. But once you make the connection between what emotions cause which cravings, you’ll be able to better divert your attention when the desire to chow down hits.

Ironically, certain foods can make you feel happy — while others can make you sad.

A fatty acid called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which is the most abundant fat in the brain, and is found in things like fish and shellfish, can make you “happier.” A study by the National Institutes of Health found a link between DHA deficiency and depression in the United States.

But regardless of whether it’s a psychological battle you’re waging or a physiological one, There are ways to kick comfort foods — the ultimate frenemy — to the curb for good.

1) Make the emotional connection. Once you identify what emotions trigger what snack-attack, you can better prepare. You’ll know when you’re sad what your mind is going to tell you to eat, and you can do your best to stay away from it.

2) Divert your attention. Bad patterns aren’t easy to break. So instead of cutting yourself off completely, shift your habit — don’t reach for the chocolate when you’re day goes south, but treat yourself to a manicure or massage instead. Opt for a night at the movies, instead of a big bowl of mac n’ cheese

3) Don’t be too hard on yourself. Comfort food is a harsh reality for everyone. Try not to beat yourself up for every slip — establishing good habits takes time.

Comfort foods won’t disappear from your life overnight, but they shouldn’t take priority over your health. You can keep the ole frenemy at bay, it just takes time, patience and encouragement from the people around you.

Hope it helps!

wenzelDr. Aaron Wenzel M.D.| Founder of Bariform