My Grandmother (Bubbie) watched me often in my youth, and there were many tasty meals to be remembered. She raised 5 children during the Great Depression with a sick husband who could not work. She did it by making food for single folks that would buy enough to feed her family and get some leftovers to take home. She used to say a Yiddish phrase to me when she fed me, “Ess en gedenkt.” It means eat and remember.
There is much to muse upon regarding comfort food. It seems as though there are some deep emotional connections between food and drink with many folks having great difficulty giving up unhealthy foods they are used to. When we look at how the brain functions and is interconnected, it’s easy to see why.
The olfactory (sense of smell) nerves connect to the brain through the top of the nose inside. The senses of smell and taste are intimately associated, and taste cannot occur without smell. These nerves also are connected to a part of the brain called the Limbic system, or “Reptile Brian.” This nickname is because of its association with survival instincts, such as fight or flight reflexes. It is also associated with its opposite, a sense of safety and comfort.
Essentially, we establish neural pathways associated with certain flavors and odors, giving a new meaning to the term comfort food. We face a problem as adults when we know that the comfort foods we select are often not healthy for us, despite the fact that they evoke soothing memories. We can, however, use this information to our advantage.
We can create healthy substitutes for comfort foods by maintaining the flavor through spices without destroying the nutrition of our food in the process. This can help transform unhealthy food into healthy food while maintaining the neurological connection that exists. An example of this would be to substitute a Raw Strawberry Shortcake for a baked, sugary one.
We can also establish new comfort foods by preparing and consuming them at times of calm and relaxation, associating them with self-nurturing on a repetitive basis. By doing this consciously, it is possible to establish new, healthy comfort foods. Create some new memories that can nurture your body and your soul. Eat healthy, and remember.