Don't Let's Call It a Diet

Comfort Food

It occurs to me that if you grow up watching your mother break up a whole package of graham crackers into a bowl and pour milk over them as a reaction to stress, it’s no surprise that your own comfort measures involve sweet, milky food.

I’ve wondered sometimes if I might have been fed too much as a baby, chubby babies being an okay thing, or if one overlong wait for the satisfaction of a bottle might have set a vicious circle in motion.

One thing I know without a doubt is that bowls of sweet cereal with milk have been a self-comforter in my life since I was a child. Loneliness or a fear of abandonment or a general feeling of not being nurtured seem to be the key emotions raising this desire in me. I could tell stories of a refrigerator that had only skim milk, and a bowl of cereal that didn’t seem "rich" enough and the addition of a splash of half-and-half to make it satisfying, but would the story come from 2007 or 1987? Either, or any year in between.

There have to be other ways to self-soothe, but I don’t know what they are just yet. This means I am in an uncomfortable zone, experiencing the feelings but not using cereal or whatever else as anesthesia.

Have I mentioned that my 16-year-old is leaving soon for boarding school?


So there have been some late evening or middle of the night moments of dread (vague anxiety or specific morbid fears), and I have been struggling through them, which means feeling miserable until I finally am so tired I go back to sleep. That does not happen quickly.

I will say that Pure Luck gives a good snuggle to a person who is feeling unsettled, but it doesn’t seem fair to wake him every time this happens. And his work will take him to the same faraway mitten-shaped state that is home to Land O’Lakes Academy, so this is something I have to learn to cope with myself.

Do you have self-soothing strategies that are healthy? I would love to hear about them.

24 thoughts on “Comfort Food”

  1. I find music very comforting – recently I have used Taize chants (a cd of Taize songs purchased on iTunes, actually) as a way of soothing myself. Could you have a special knitting project (to be put into a care package later, e.g.)?

  2. Let’s see: chocolate, obsessive thinking, picking fights with my spouse, lying in bed and thinking about the worst moments of my life, worrying about things that are out of my control ….
    Oh, wait, you wanted the healthy ones.
    Self-soothing strategies: meditation, reiki, belly dancing, putting on 70s music (like the CD to Dirty Dancing) and just dancing around, walking in the woods, emailing a close friend, calling a close friend on the phone, reading comfort books, gardening, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing or anything physical, listening to music like Joni Mitchell, going to my mother’s house for a cup of tea, petting one of the cats, a hot bath or shower, a nap, heating up one of those corn bags in the microwave and putting it over my shoulders or on my feet in the wintertime, changing into my comfort clothes (sweatpants, down booties), cleaning my office space so that I feel more in control, writing, taking photos, doing pastels or some other kind of artwork.
    Nights are the hardest, I think. When I am going through a period of anxiety about something, I find it helpful to do something really physical during the day so that I am tired at night and will sleep.
    My comfort books include some of my favourite kids’ books — I find them really soothing to read in the middle of the night.

  3. I guess now is not the time you want to hear that my kitchen has cinnamon toast crunch and things to make root-beer floats in it because I am in such need of a vacation?
    Besides those two things (and other foods like mashed potatoes! and souper rice! and mac and cheese! and green bean casserole!), I read. And read and read and read. I can always tell when I am stressed by something, because I read more and faster. I devour novels like they’re going out of style. my mom’s birthday was this past week AND I’ve been stressing about the new child protection policy and the new Wednesday evening program and all the other stuff that comes with September in church. I read five books this week. I stayed up late, I read over every meal, it was like crack. I could not put the books down. I did the same thing in Egypt–I read probably 300 books in the year I was there. There were days when I read two or three books. During the day. It’s a great escape, if the book is well written. If, however, your mother has died of cancer, you should screen your books carefully. I went through a spell when every single book I read had a parent dying of cancer in it. It was horrible.
    Luckily, historical fiction and period Brit-lit doesn’t know about cancer. 🙂
    I’ve been reading the sequels to A Vision of Light this week. not as well written as the first, but still recommended. Enjoy!

  4. I cope by eating sugar snap peas and other fruits when I’m anxious. Sometimes I’ll watch episodes of CSI.
    I find that conjugating Latin verbs is quite useful when I can’t be conjugated myself, but I’m not sure that’s quite the solution that you’re looking for.
    Still, good luck!

  5. parodie, I hadn’t thought of music, which must sound weird, but the trusty iPod could be a big help.
    jo(e), what a list! I could have written that first paragraph.
    Mine did, too, Teri. I agree, the old books are the best.
    My fear is if I go downstairs, so as not to disturb Pure Luck, I will be drawn to the Cheerios. Of course, since there is no more half and half around, the risk has diminished.

  6. I actually used to memorize poetry. This was helpful when I lived in Japan (esp. at the beginning) and felt illiterate. As for eating, I like to snack on a pickle or two: spicy and low in calories.
    I find that petting or otherwise spoiling the dog reduces stress as well. There’s something about just hearing her sigh after she’s curled up in her bed.

  7. What really works for me, if the spouse isn’t around for some reason, is letting one of my kids pet me instead of me petting them. I snuggle up to one of them and ask them to rub my head or “hold Mommy.” They love doing this–the ones still at home are almost 6 and almost 13, and it makes them feel powerful and protective.

  8. If you don’t want to wake Pure Luck, what about a big dog snuggle? Or, patting your own arm as you would comfort someone else.
    When I wake up at night I pray about whatever is bothering me. I pray for people who are on my heart, too.
    Diane’s suggesting of memorizing poetry or this week’s lectionary Gospel passage is distracting (and helpful), too.

  9. I laughed a little too hard at jo(e)’s first paragraph, that’s all I’m saying. Maybe I should re-learn some Latin verbs. I’d certainly get into less trouble that way.
    I’m an iPod person, but memorizing poetry worked well for me when I had more functioning brain cells.

  10. I’m extremely impressed with the stress-induced snap pea crowd.
    I don’t do milk in my cereal in the best of times. Can’t deal with mushy food. Best stress reliever around here: a small bowl of chocolate chips from the freezer. In a tiny Barbie bowl that used to belong to my daughter. Crunchy. Chocolate-y. Delicious.

  11. Praying the directory or the family tree. When I can’t sleep I pray my very extensive family tree in an orderly fashion. When that doesn’t work I move to the church directory. Pray as many A names as I can remember. Then the B names. It’s useful an better than counting sheep.

  12. Hmmm, these are all so good. And healthy. I didn’t know other people thought about this stuff so much too. I crave salty, so I nuke things like green beans, put Ms. Dash and butter spray on them and go nuts if I have to eat.
    Otherwise, I’m an iPod person like Phantom. I have chants, a whole album by Jars of Clay, and some playlists that I’ve put together that seem to help. (One of my favorites is 5 songs, heavy on bass and sax, by a 90’s band called Morphine.) I just hate it when I can’t sleep, though.

  13. Um, this is a blog for grownups, right?
    Because there’s one self-soothing strategy that nobody’s mentioned yet…
    [clearing throat awkwardly and ducking out]

  14. My comfort foods are usually beverages: a really good cup of coffee with skim milk and a splash of low fat (but sweet) hazelnut flavored creamer. Or iced tea with a hint of peach or Earl Grey. Or a glass of wine with dinner. I’m sure the fact that I choose beverages must have something to do with being fed as an infant, wouldn’t you say?
    Despite my efforts to self-soothe, I have those late night wake-ups, often these days. Really awful, I must say. Some of it is actually physiological (hormonal) – but of course my mind needs to give it a reason other than that. And I have a few reasons that fill the need.
    I hope that once snowman is settled in school and you can experience him being there safe and sound you will begin to relax and sleep. We have a beloved family member in Afghanistan, stationed at an unsecured military base. Freaked me out when he left. But he calls home every day or sends a text (yes, text messages to Afghanistan, how cool is that). So, after 7 months I find I am not so worried or anxious. Funny how we adapt.

  15. Thursday, when we met, was my once a month turn to feel blown-up-like-a-balloon bloated, so that means Friday was my once a month turn to felt despondent, and why-do-I-have-to-put-up-with-all-this-crap depressed. So when Joseph handed me a pack of saltines later that evening, I dug in. And my bad feelings went away almost immediately. I wish simple carbohydrates didn’t cure bad feelings so easily! When I’m more in control and feel a bad piece coming on, I head out to the lake to look for a pretty rock. The piles of pretty rocks, both inside and out, around my house are a testament to how often I rely on this crutch.
    Are you going to compile a list for us?

  16. hmmm, I wonder what point in the pregnancy rm is in?
    When the mind is racing and I cannot sleep I give up, find a comfy corner and write. I find if I get it out on paper, then read it eventually I’ve got it all out of my head and I can lay back down.
    Sometimes the words and anxieties are all jammed up and coherent thoughts won’t come so I work through the alphabet:
    Away at School
    Boy only 16
    Cereal with milk I shall not eat.
    Dream of his being fulfilled

  17. I guess it depends on what one means by “adult.” My young adult son reads it, so I will abstain on this particular topic, courteously.

  18. I dont know how healthy it is, but I cruise celebrity blogs when i’m stressed. ( is the least offensive to me of the offensive stuff) nothing like reading about someone else’s heartache…not very pastoral, I suppose, but it does help.

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