Serving Up Stress Relief: Comfort Food In High Demand
Nov. 9, 2001 -- At the Silver Grill in midtown Atlanta, the blue-plate special is in demand. "Meat, three vegetables, that kind of thing," says owner Kevin Huggins. "Straight-ahead basic American fare -- Southern diner fare."
These days, Huggins is hearing about comfort food. "Guy said to me the other day, he just had to get his comfort food."
All over the country, people are ordering more of the stuff they grew up eating -- quintessential comfort food -- meals that soothe our souls in tumultuous times.
Piled-high mashed potatoes. Country-fried steak. Meatloaf. Fried chicken. Macaroni-and-cheese. Pancakes on Saturday morning. A burger-and-fries lunch. And at snack time, there's good old-fashioned chips.
A recent ACNielsen survey of grocery store sales showed that snack food sales were up nearly 12.4% in September over last year. The sale of instant potatoes jumped almost 13%, according to Information Resources, Inc.
In offices around Atlanta, snack distributor Larry Stuckey keeps vending machines packed with chips, cookies, pastries, and candy. The stuff seems to be moving faster these days -- but certainly not the healthy stuff. Those granola bars haven't moved in weeks.
"Junk food still leads," he tells WebMD.
Indulging in our favorite foods "certainly is not unusual in times of stress," says Alan Hack, PhD, private practice clinical psychologist in Manhattan.
"People regress, trying to find ways to feel safe," he tells WebMD. "All of our earliest experiences of safety are about food, when mother was feeding us."
Eating also offers us the sense of control we crave, says Hack. "This terrorist act has taken a lot of that from us. What we put in our mouths feels like control, the one thing I can do that helps me take care of myself."
Unfortunately, we forget the long-term effects of all that fattening food.
"The risks of chronic disease -- heart disease and cancer -- don't go away," says Chris Rosenbloom, PhD, chairman of nutrition at Georgia State University and spokesperson for the American Dietetics Association.
Her advice: if you can't resist comfort foods, try cooking at home.
"You can still have your mashed potatoes, just use chicken broth or skim milk instead of cream," she tells WebMD. "There are lots of wonderful cookbooks of healthy, home-style, or comfort food."
Remember, too, to get some exercise, Rosenbloom advises. "I find the best way to relieve stress is to take care of myself, to exercise. I'm not a marathon runner, not a tri-athlete. There's nothing like a walk on a beautiful day -- going out with your dog for a brisk walk or taking your kids to the park when the fall weather is beautiful. Studies show that exercise is a great stress releaser."
Keep in mind that the holidays are coming up, she says. One study published last year showed that people don't tend to gain much weight over the holidays -- maybe just one or two pounds -- but they also don't take off the weight in January.