Settlement Guide

Comfort food: why do we crave it and how to make it a part of a healthy lifestyle

Source: Flashpop/GettyImages

When we are stressed, tired or sad, we may use food as a comfort. Usually it is the unhealthy dishes we crave. Good news is you can still have a healthy lifestyle and enjoy some of your favourite comfort food.

  • Comfort food triggers pleasant memories
  • Comfort food can be a part of a healthy lifestyle, moderation and portion control is the key

Sweet or salty, warm or cold…but probably not what we would call a healthy food. So why do we crave it so much?

Research shows, comfort food can trigger very powerful memories of one’s childhood, homeland or specific events.

hot chocolate
Comfort food often triggers happy memories

Food Addiction and Obesity Psychologists from The FAT Key Kellee Waters confirms that people eat comfort foods to obtain or maintain a feeling. She says that foods have emotional or memory attachment. 

According to Kellee Waters, we eat to change our mood or make ourselves happier.

Kellee Waters says that by eating we also are trying to fix chemical imbalance in the body. This is because food triggers our brain chemistry.

A lot of people in our society have brain chemistry imbalances or addiction to food; because naturally their brains can’t produce particular brain chemistries to the right level. So they need to artificially produce it. And the only way they can do that is by ingesting the different foods.

Kellee Waters says it is serotonin, the happy hormone, that we want. The levels of this hormone are increased by carbohydrates, fat and sugar and that could explain, why we usually crave the unhealthy stuff, rather than, say vegetables.

How to make comfort food part of healthy lifestyle

Although it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle, it doesn’t mean we have to completely ditch the yummy food that makes us feel good.

Nutritionist, Sport Scientist and personal trainer Alice Round believes it is all about portions and balance. She encourages what she calls a flexible dieting lifestyle, looking at food through the day, rather than looking at only one dish.

If a client has already consumed their nutritional goals, which might be having two sets of fruits and five sets of vegetables and maybe some healthy portions of protein, then there is nothing wrong with them having say a couple of biscuits with cup of tea or having some hot chips or those sort comfort foods.


Woman eating a bread
Comfort food can be a part of a healthy diet
Sigrid Gombert/Getty Images

Alice Round says that the key to a healthy lifestyle is a balance and a moderate approach to eating. Nothing as such is prohibited, but portions do matter.

She encourages people to keep up the healthy style by making sure that the main part of the food is nutritious food.  Ms Round encourages the 80:20 rule.

That’s 80 per cent of the time try to eat that really nutrition dense, high quality, micronutrient rich food. The other 20 per cent of the day you can fit in something you really enjoy, something that is your sort of soul food. 

Alice Round adds that by sticking to this rule, one can still get amazing physical results.

Which is great news because, let’s be honest, no one makes curry like mum did or who could resist grandma’s bowl of the best pasta. For Bella Jakubiak, winner of my Kitchen Rules 2011, it is her mum’s schnitzel.

I think for our comfort food it has to be schnitzel, that’s what we grow up eating, and it was probably the first thing we both learnt how to cook when we were younger, the anytime we eat schnitzel, made exactly how my mum used to make it, we feel very much I guessed relaxed and, I don’t know, it feels good inside...