Food For Thought: Why DO We Crave Comfort Foods?


By Sandy McCall


Why do we crave comfort foods and what are they? Dairy? Pasta? Sweets? Chocolate? Salty foods? Fried foods? Spicy foods? I am guessing it is somewhat individual to each person.


What causes the cravings? Are the cravings caused by emotional upsets? weather? activity level? chemical imbalance? allergies? The list of possibilities goes on …


Emotional upsets: This site says “We don’t always eat simply to satisfy hunger. We also turn to food for comfort, stress relief, or as a reward. Unfortunately, emotional eating doesn’t fix emotional problems. It usually makes you feel worse. Afterward, not only does the original emotional issue remain, but you also feel guilty for overeating. Learning to recognize your emotional eating triggers is the first step to breaking free from food cravings and compulsive overeating, and changing the habits that have sabotaged your diets in the past.”


This rings true in my life. And I think that an emotional upset or even illness can bring us back to another time, perhaps to our childhood, where our mother or someone else may have offered up food that seemed satisfying to us and our emotions.


My sister died tragically in the month of September when I was very young. Each year I would start to feel down (crave comfort foods) around September and it continued through the holidays. It wasn’t until I was in my fifties that I discovered that my mom became very sad every September when I was a child and I followed suit. When the sadness came, we unrolled the comfort foods!


When one of my adult daughters calls to say she is sick and feeling very badly … I usually kick into saying, “oh honey, I am so sorry. Do you want mommy to make chicken noodle soup for you? And they reply, “yes, mommy.” And I joke and say, well I will ship it to you on dry ice! I haven’t ever really shipped the soup on dry ice, but it is the thought that counts, right? It doesn’t cost me a penny and the girls are always amused!


Weather: We crave fats and carbs in cooler weather because cold temps bring on the need for more calories or perhaps the cooler weather brings up childhood memories as in my case, and perhaps even allergies.
Read here about why we need more calories to stay warm in the cooler weather.


Allergies: One of the most frustrating aspects of food allergy is that many of us begin to crave the very foods we are allergic to.


According to a leading allergy specialist, “frequent contact with allergenic foods triggers a rise in the brain opioid enkephalin. The enkephalin is a narcotic produced by the body that is as addictive as externally supplied narcotics.”


And since many of these causes interact with each other, the end result is that we may want comfort food and never know the cause. In years past, my cravings were for sugar or full fat cheeses and the like. Today when I want comfort food, my healthier foods work well! So let’s explore some “better for you” comfort foods!!! (Do you even need to be reminded of dark chocolate!?)


Actually, I also think that cravings, in general, lessen or change as we start to eat a healthier diet. Actually, I now like things that I have never liked before. My youngest daughter told me just yesterday that since she has cut out some of the sugar and carbs, she now likes the taste of almonds for the first time.


I also think that other things besides food can give us comfort! So when the craving for comfort comes, I often do something just for myself: a bath nap with lavender Epsom salts, with or without a facial or hair conditioning. Ahhhh … (Write to me if you want simple recipes for facials and hair conditioning made from foods you have in the kitchen.)


Or try starting a hearty soup in your slow cooker. You will be surprised at how comforting the smell can be! Or exercise, surprisingly, helps! When my dogs insist on going for a walk in cold weather … I resist sometimes, but who can say NO to those faces! And I always, always feel better when I return! Do they know something I don’t?


Sometimes there is nothing better than a Sunday morning breakfast particularly on a cold winter morning. I make buckwheat pancakes or waffles. They are easy, gluten free and taste great! Watch for a future issue where I will talk about buckwheat, the misunderstood grain/flour!


My mid-afternoon snack that is truly comfort for me is homemade almond-cashew butter on a cracker with a dollop of preserves sweetened with fruit juice. Yum!


And if you want something salty and cheesy, try Kale Chips—they are addictive, simple and quick. Write to me for recipe! You will be glad you did!


I have other comfort food recipes that I am happy to share, so just email to ask me! Creamy Mushroom Chicken Dinner that is dairy and gluten free? Or try some of these healthy versions of things like PB&J, Chicken & Dumplings and baked potato!


You will notice new “FOODIE TIPS” in Food for Thought … whether you are a beginner or an experienced cook … whether you are exploring a different way of eating, perhaps like eating healthier fat, less gluten, more and different veggies, less sugar and/or dairy or maybe just more variety in the meals you serve … there are always simple tips out there for starting or enhancing your experience.


Let’s maintain a beginner’s mind and be open to simplicity. If you are starting out on the foodie trek, please send me your questions—and, please send me your simple ideas for enhancing your cooking and eating experience.


FOODIE TIP: Chipotle in Adobo Sauce – if you haven’t discovered this little can of wonder, check it out in the international section at your grocery store—you can freeze the remaining chipotle in adobo and surprisingly it does not freeze solid so you can easily spoon out the amount needed for your next recipe.



Roasted Poblano Mac & Cheese
(Can be made gluten and dairy free)


• 2 large poblano peppers
• 3 T of coconut oil, melted
• 3 T of sorghum flour, add to oil (or choose the flour you like)
• 1 can of full-fat coconut milk
• ¾ C of freshly grated parmesan cheese
• ¾ C freshly grated cheddar cheese (or use non-dairy “cheeses” of your choice)
• 3 cloves of garlic
• 3-5 green onions
• 1 teaspoon of chopped chipotle in adobo sauce-adjust to taste
• Extra oil for sautéing
• 8 oz of pasta (rice pasta for gluten free)


>Wash, dry and trim stems from peppers and rub with olive oil or coconut oil
>Put whole peppers in a covered casserole dish and bake at 425-450 degrees for about 15-20 minutes.
>When done, the peppers are soft, shrink some and the skin wrinkles.
>Leave them in the covered casserole dish until they cool and you can handle them easily (You might want to roast the poblanos ahead of time)
>Melt coconut oil and add flour to make a roux (sauce)
>Cook until roux thickens, stirring constantly; thin with water if necessary
>Add the cheeses and stir until melted
>Cook the pasta of your choice in boiling water with a little salt—try a different shape pasta for a change!
>While pasta is cooking, peel skin from cooled poblanos and cut stem from top. You can split the pepper and remove the seeds if you like, or leave the seeds in as these peppers are not hot
>Sauté minced garlic, and chopped green onions in extra oil and add peppers chopped in pieces or strips
>Stir garlic, onion and pepper mixture into cheese sauce and then add to drained pasta, stir and serve!


FOODIE TIP: Try replacing your regular cooking oil with coconut or olive oil.




Sandy McCall

Sandy McCall

Sandy McCall’s day job is working as the Broker/Owner of Southern Life Realty. When she’s not cooking or loving-up her cat and dogs, she enjoys writing for WNC Woman and volunteering for Madison Habitat for Humanities. 828.273.9755 – – Your Dream, Our Expertise … Matching People With Property!

Sandy McCall
Written by Sandy McCall