Comfort Eating, Happiness, & Pleasure
Remember the old Coca-Cola slogan, open happiness? Food plays many important roles in our lives, including comfort, pleasure, and as this slogan suggests, happiness as well.
But there’s a big difference between happiness, comfort, and pleasure.
In a world where many of us are overstressed, emotional eating becomes a daily pattern. We eat to avoid feeling sad, anxious, stressed, angry, empty, lonely, etc. On a biological level, stress leads to higher cortisol levels, which in turn causes cravings, especially for high-fat and high-sugar foods (hello chips, cookies, soda, chocolate…) Indulging these cravings gives a hit of pleasure, comfort, and satisfaction because it raises serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain.
But does pleasure equal happiness?
One article from Psychology Today defines happiness as “a state of well-being that encompasses living a good life—that is, with a sense of meaning and deep satisfaction.” It continues, “Happiness is not the result of bouncing from one joy to the next; researchers find that achieving happiness typically involves times of considerable discomfort.”
That is to say, happiness doesn’t live in a bag of potato chips or that peppermint dark chocolate bar I bought last night (sigh).
It’s not your food’s job to make you happy.
If happiness is about a sense of meaning and deep satisfaction, the question becomes, how can I create that sense of meaning and feeling of satisfaction in my life?
The first step is to stop buffering* your emotions, and embrace feeling all your emotions, good and bad. Life is 50/50, and meaning and satisfaction often come from experiencing and working through great life challenges and deep emotional pain.
When we use food to escape this pain, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to grow, evolve, and cultivate meaning from it.
Moreover, using food to buffer our emotions is a temporary escape with often dire consequences. After the initial comfort and pleasure wears off, we often feel worse about ourselves, and end up emotionally eating to escape compounded feelings of guilt and shame, which turns into a vicious cycle.
And of course, overeating high-fat and high-sugar comfort foods takes a toll on our physical health and weight as well.
The bottom line?
Food is more than fuel, it is pleasure (and community, culture, celebration, joy) as well. And while it’s important to enjoy your food, it’s also important to understand that food cannot create happiness. That is something you must do for yourself.
*buffering is defined by The Life Coach School as something we do to avoid fully experiencing our lives that has a net negative consequence