Sometimes, outside influences like magazines - or even friends - tell us we should feel bad about consuming certain foods. And sometimes, we make ourselves feel guilty about it. Amaan Akhtar explores the idea and meaning of comfort food, and why we should let ourselves indulge every now and then without the guilt.
Ah, comfort food… it is one of life’s greatest pleasures to our taste buds. No matter who you are, or where you come from, we all share a mutual love for comfort food because it brings us warmth and joy every time we eat it. We naturally turn to these types of meals for many reasons: if we are feeling stressed or are in pain and need to be soothed, if we want our bellies to be warm during a bout of cold weather, to re-live a childhood memory, or if we simply want to feel ‘good’ – comfort food is always there for us.
And the remarkable thing is that our choice in comfort food depends entirely on the individual. While there may be a collective opinion about certain meals which are always categorised in this food group (think pizza, burgers, chocolate, ice cream, French fries, etc.), many of us have specific ‘comfort food’ meals in mind based on our culture, or from our up-bringing because we have a sentimental value attached to that particular food. Yet, one thing is for certain: these heart-warming, belly-filling meals tend to be high in calories and carbohydrates.
And honestly, there is nothing wrong with this at all! However, due to the 21st century’s ideals of beauty standards we are (more often than we admit) put off from enjoying these foods that make us feel happy. And as a result of these standards, we as a society have become intoxicatingly obsessed with ‘fitness culture’. While it is definitely not a bad thing to be proactive in our fitness and health goals, this trend has quickly led to some major issues with our relationship with food, when we began to label certain food groups with harsh negative connotations.
Today, there are an overwhelming number of resources that educate us about nutrition – so much in fact, that the vast majority of us can clearly understand why processed foods are bad for our health. And that we should turn to more natural food groups to gain all of our nutritional requirements in our diets.
In a perfect world, everyone would be following these strict, healthy eating habits for their wellbeing.
However, in reality everyone around us is pressed for time due to the workaholic nature that society has promoted in the modern world. This constant strive for efficiency and excellence in the workplace has left many drained and exhausted from the typical working week. I would commend anyone who is still able to strictly follow healthy eating habits (as well as consistently exercise) 100% of the time, when they are anchored by other commitments on a daily basis. And yes, it is true that it is becoming easier to eat healthier and maintain a ‘balanced diet’ through either going for healthy options in the form of convenience packaged foods at the supermarket, or simply stopping for a quick bite at the local café.
But that doesn’t mean it is okay for us to feel guilty when we opt for the unhealthy option occasionally.
We have engrained this idea of a ‘cheat meal’ into our minds, labelling our own comfort foods under this sub-group. Although the point of a weekly (or fortnightly) cheat meal is to encourage healthy eating habits during the rest of the week or month, we still have an overwhelming sense of shame and self-loathing if we either: have our comfort food too early in our healthy eating plan or diet regimen, or if we exceed our ‘cheat meal quota’. We cannot expect ourselves to eat healthy all of the time – it is perfectly fine for us to treat ourselves to whatever comfort food we wish and whenever we want.
Yet, we individually develop this unnecessary burden of guilt, as if we have let ourselves down in some way because we are not working towards our goal of looking like that ‘particular’ Hollywood A-lister or celebrity. Just because we have given in to a craving we had that day. If you look at the cover of any fitness or fashion magazine, you’ll be astounded by the appearance of the model, who usually has a stocky muscular physique or the slim and toned look, or even a curvy figure. We are entrapped by these beauty archetypes seen on Instagram and in Hollywood that reinforce and perpetuate this incessant need to “look healthy and beautiful” in appearance, rather than feel that way internally.
And this needs to stop. Because truthfully, these ‘models’ are almost always airbrushed in some shape or form – no one on our planet looks perfect.
We need to embrace our love for comfort food and view it in a positive light again, because sometimes it is perfectly alright to indulge when we feel like it. We are all human and we don’t have to constantly live up to certain ideals of health, and we certainly don’t need to look like a cover model to be happy. While I’m not advocating that we should use this as an excuse to give in to emotional eating habits all the time, we should at least not shy away from our cravings. Truthfully, it is better than restricting ourselves in an extreme way, as this will most likely increase the risk of developing eating disorders.
We need to re-evaluate our relationship with food, as there are those around the world who are not as blessed and as fortunate as we are to be surrounded by an abundance of food. You need to remind yourself that all types of food are your ‘friend’, but some should be enjoyed in moderation compared to others. When we learn to develop this perspective on food, we can finally release the negative emotions that we currently attach to certain types of food. Only then can we truly have a healthier, balanced relationship towards each and every meal and snack that we eat.
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