When you are angry, bored or frustrated, what kinds of food do you seek? If you’re like some of the people who’ve been in studies, you’d reach for foods that are crunchy. Maybe you feel like biting something.
While potato chips fit in the crunchy food category, a healthier option would be baby carrots or a crisp apple.
When you’re feeling sad or lonely, what foods would you pursue? Research subjects often want soups or other warm foods that remind them of the cozy feelings of home. Maybe that means Mom’s recipe for meatballs and gravy.
Interestingly, people may crave sweet foods and cereal-based foods when they are feeling amused, or on the other side of the spectrum, depressed.
People respond differently to stress. Some find their hearts racing and their palms sweaty. Others become irritable or experience headaches, body aches or sleepless nights. Appetite often is affected when people are feeling anxious or upset. Many people lose their appetites and may find their favorite foods unappealing. They may have to remind themselves to eat.
Others seek out certain foods that bring them psychological comfort. Maybe that means bowls of ice cream, sweet, chewy brownies, doughnuts, bags of chips or other foods that they usually limit in their daily diet. In these cases, eating becomes a distraction – something to keep their hands busy – but not necessarily something that brings enjoyment.
Psychologists have found that food has many more meanings than simply satisfying hunger pangs. People vary greatly in what brings them comfort in stressful times.
Supplement manufacturers may tempt us with special stress formulas high in certain B vitamins, but most experts agree you don’t really need them if you are eating foods.
When confronted with stressful times, try to eat a variety of foods from all the food groups. Because we’re all unique, choose textures and temperatures that bring you comfort, whether that is crunchy, smooth, warm or cold.
While some people may crave mashed potatoes when they’re stressed, one thing’s for sure: Don’t be a couch potato. Regular physical activity can help reduce feelings of fear, anxiety and depression. Physical activity also can help you sleep better and improve your feelings of self- confidence and self-control.
If that’s not motivating evidence, consider that regular physical activity also helps control weight, strengthens bones, reduces risk of colon cancer and heart disease, and helps control blood sugar levels among diabetics.
No time for fitness, you say? Try sneaking more activity into your day with these tips. You might find that you are no longer reaching for a comforting food item:
- Enjoy a walk instead of a doughnut during breaks at work.
- Walk while you talk on your phone.
- Hide the remote control so you have to get off the couch to change the channel.
- Play with your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews or your pets.
- Exercise during TV commercials.
- Ignore the elevator and opt for the steps.
- Go dancing, or just turn on the radio and move.
If you’re feeling that nothing but mashed potatoes will take the edge off your stress, try this tasty recipe. Potatoes are notable sources of the mineral potassium and several other vitamins and minerals. I shaved some calories from the original recipe by using fat-free cream cheese and reduced-fat sour cream, and nipped the sodium by swapping some onion powder for the onion salt. Small recipe changes add up to big nutritional changes.
Make-ahead Mashed Potatoes
5 pounds potatoes, peeled and cooked
6 ounces cream cheese, fat-free
1 c. sour cream, reduced fat
1 Tbsp. butter
2 tsp. onion salt
1 tsp. onion powder
1/4 c. milk (or to desired consistency)
Crumb topping: 3/4 cup fine bread crumbs tossed with 1 1/2 Tbsp. melted butter
Combine potatoes, cream cheese, sour cream, butter, salt and milk. Whip until light and fluffy. Put into a well-greased casserole dish. Cover with crumb topping. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. This dish can be prepared the night before and refrigerated. If you make it ahead, allow about 1 1/4 hours of cooking time.
Makes 16 servings. Each serving has 150 calories, 4 grams (g) fat, 24 g carbohydrate, 4 g protein, 2 g fiber and 330 milligrams sodium.