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Comfort foods...


One question that always comes up when I start discussing the LCHF way of eating is how to handle comfort foods, those things that you can't imagine life without. Each person has a line like, "Well, I can't give up X and Y. Life wouldn't be worth living!"

I'm sorry, but if life's value hinges on chocolate or coffee or potato chips, you really need to broaden your horizons...

That said, though, there is a huge psychological and emotional component that goes into our food choices. Many foods come with major psychological baggage. I love tea and started drinking black tea (with lots of milk and sugar, of course) by about age 10. My British extraction parents were great tea drinkers and had taught me to make a proper "cuppa" very early in my childhood. Black tea got me though university and it wasn't until my internship and my first job that I started drinking coffee. I would drag myself to 7 a.m. Renal Team rounds at the teaching hospital and only coffee was on offer, so I drank it. My first boss, Lorna, loved her "melt-your-spoon" strength coffee and again, no tea was offered, so I learned to drink coffee. Nowadays, I couldn't imagine life without coffee. But when I make black tea with milk and inhale its warm aroma, it's a connection to my parents and their love.

For me, the ultimate comfort food is bread and cheese, or crackers and cheese, or macaroni and cheese, or grilled cheese sandwiches. You get the idea. Every Sunday our family would come home from church and my mom would make a whole bunch of grilled cheese sandwiches using a cookie sheet and the broiler element of the oven. Bread, butter and the thicker, better quality Kraft cheese slices (not the almost plastic stuff that we have today). Crispy, gooey, salty and buttery, all at the same time. Long after my mother had died, and I was visiting my Dad with my own small children in tow, he would make the same grilled cheese sandwiches for us. My kids, now both adults, fondly remember building grilled cheese sandwiches with Grampa.

Bagels and cheese or crackers and cheese, of varying types, were my mainstays during university and my daily after work snack for many years. Melting cheddar cheese on anything makes it better. It's a serious comfort food...

So, how to handle those foods that have strong emotional or psychological associations? It really depends on the food, but also on the emotional or psychological need that it is addressing. The first step is honest self-evaluation, being brutally frank with yourself about why a particular food or beverage has such a strong impact on you. Maybe it is associated with getting love or attention from a particular person, or it's attached to a memory of a particular time or place. Are you showing yourself love when you consume this particular item, or are you subconsciously punishing yourself? If your self-worth is low, you may feel that you "deserve" the yucky feeling that you get by eating something that is harmful to you or to your goals and dreams.

We can take a page from the mindfullness meditation folks. Look at the thought/desire as it is present in your mind, acknowledge its presence and existence, then consciously let it go, releasing it from your mind, and releasing yourself from its power. For example, in a stressful situation at work, you get a strong desire, need even, to go to the vending machines and buy BBQ flavoured potato chips and a Coke, both foods that you have used in the past as "comfort foods" and that you know are just waiting for you in that machine. But you also know that you have been trying to eat lower carb and that the high sugar load and rancid oxidized fats of the snack foods are going to make your body feel lousy, even if it makes your emotions feel temporarily better. Here's where you can look at that desire and say to it, "I see you there - my desire to go get those snack foods - and I acknowledge that you have been powerful in my life before. But I now realize that while you appear to help me, you are actually hurting me and I deserve to be loved and feel wonderful. So I release you, and let you go. I am going to make a decision to love and nurture myself in another way."

Then move on to your nurturing plan. Maybe it involves making tea, or eating the little container of safe treats (maybe macademia nuts) in your desk drawer. Maybe it involves allowing yourself to step away from the job for a bit, walk outside in the fresh air, go sit in your car for a minute and call your best supportive friend, or call to book a massage, or praying for support.

It might also involve having a low carb, healthy fats compliant version of your comfort food ready waiting in the wings. Go buy a bag of pork rinds instead of chips - salty and crispy. Instead of sweets, have some fat bombs made up and waiting in your freezer. Pour coconut milk or whipping cream (unwhipped) over frozen berries and the cream/milk will immediately thicken up and crystalize, making a decent ice cream substitute. Instead of a burger, stop by the grocery store and buy a rotisserie chicken or some non-breaded wings. Still feels like "fast food", but without the yuck-feeling aftermath.

The bottom line is that comfort foods are about trying to show yourself love, and loving yourself is a noble intention, but it can be achieved in lots of other ways that don't sabatoge your health goals. The next blog post will be my recipe for Paleo Bread and the lovely grilled cheese sandwich that was my breakfast this morning. It made me very happy!

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