Finding comfort

Pinch of salt

The author of this article is a self-confessed comfort eater who's on the run from various dieting authorities. This article is not that dreaded thing: weight-loss advice. Food is mentioned abundantly, so we advise you not to read this on an empty stomach.

If you're a comfort eater, you can rest assured that you're in touch with your emotions. You're probably also in touch with an excellent late-night supplier of your favourite food.

Thousands of women choose to mark defining moments in their lives with food, and end up with rather undefined bodies. Is it as simple as saying women think, therefore they feel, therefore they eat?

What makes you melt when you see an apple crumble? What makes you tuck into two large packets of crisps? Is it sadness, happiness or boredom that propels you through the food aisles and over the edge? Which one of the following types of comfort eaters are you?

Banishing the blues
Do you recall a loving adult in your childhood who was always ready to soothe away your tears with a snack? Nowadays, when the blues strike, do you reach for the best painkiller you know: food? Anything can be a trigger: a break-up, a confrontation at work or even a sad movie.

When you're sad, are you tempted to smooth it over with a thick layer of lemon meringue pie? Or some mashed potatoes with gravy? And what about melt-your-resistance macaroni and cheese, washed down with a chocolate milkshake?

The sad feelings might disappear as soon as the meringue starts melting in your mouth or the mash is filling your stomach, but then the sick feeling kicks in.

The celebrator
The idea of celebrating anything without food fills you with horror. You recoil from invitations to celebrate over a cup of coffee or drinks. Where is the food? For you food is one big party and where there's a party, there must be food. So not only are you known for lavishly catered functions, but you also reach for comfort food when you're in a good mood – the food you equate with happiness. It could be kids' food such as cheese curls and Jelly Tots, or it could be something that you need to eat messily with your hands, such as spare ribs, kebabs or 'slap' chips with tomato sauce.

You also crave food when you're on the highest high of happiness: just after you've lost weight. Then you can afford to eat a little something, right? Wrong. The morning after comes and with it the sinking feeling that happiness – and your new, lower weight – might be longer lasting if you didn't eat your way to the other side of the rainbow and back.

And isn't it a widely accepted fact that sweets or peanuts, popped into the mouth at regular intervals, release untold quantities of feel-good hormones? Of course this is utter nonsense, but for a moment there, didn't you feel happy?

The filler
You eat to fill the void – the emptiness that signals boredom, loneliness or the fact that you don't know who you are. You might eat at any moment, on the slightest impulse. Nothing on TV? Let's see what's showing in the fridge. Nowhere to go? Let's go for a visit to the nearest convenience store. Feeling lonely? Nothing provides better company than a bar of chocolate and a good book.

Food is your friend. Not only can food – vast quantities of it – be big and heavy enough to fill any void, but it also smooths over rough patches in the same way a thick layer of peanut butter coats a slice of bread. Who says food can never be a substitute for friendship? Food doesn't nag, and doesn't talk only about itself. Of course it does tend to go off if you leave it for too long!

But it's not just when and why we eat that tells us something, it is also the type of foods...

Sweet things
A British study found that almost 80% of women crave sweet things when they have premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Women who eat lots of sweet stuff also tend to drink more coffee and smoke more than those who don't. Retired people, housewives and unskilled workers eat more sweet things. And the two sweet things that people crave most are chocolate and cake.

Before you have your cake and eat it however, consider the fact that what you eat for dessert is often a dead giveaway of your personality. Or at least that's what a fun quiz on claims.

Brownies are for the adventurous. People who choose brownies love new ideas and are slight oddballs with a unique sense of humour and direction. If lemon meringue is your thing, you're said to be smooth and sexy. You can be a bit of a drama queen but you have lots of friends.

Cheesecake anyone? Lovers of any variety of cheesecake are romantic, warm people. They care about people and are often very dependable individuals. They can be a little bit too emotional, however. If you can't say no to chocolate cake you're a sensual, giving person who's always ready to receive as well. You're creative, ambitious and passionate, and you will not settle for anything average.

If ice cream makes you melt, you're probably a sports nut – whether it's participating or watching. You tend to be self-centred and can be demanding. The cravers of carrot cake are fun loving and like to laugh. They're fun to be with and are very warm-hearted, if a little quirky at times.

Savoury things
If sweet delights leave you cold, you probably like things that go crunch in the night. You prefer your snacks to leave a salty layer on your lips, along with a satisfying taste on your tongue.

According to an American study, men will more often go for a combination of protein, salt and fat such as burgers, pizza, steak and chips, while women go weak at the knees at the thought of salt-and-vinegar crisps.

Researchers say we only want salt on our food because we've become accustomed to it – it's not a taste or preference we're born with.

Professor Alan Hirsch from the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago in the United States, caused a snack sensation when he claimed that the salty snacks you prefer, say a lot about your personality.

According to him chip lovers are successful high achievers who enjoy the trappings of success. If tortilla chips make your tongue zing, you are a perfectionist and a humanitarian who hates any form of injustice. Pretzel pickers have a tendency to start more than one project at a time. They should take care not to neglect their family, and they are easily bored.

Cracker snackers are great thinkers with lots of interests. They tend to be shy loners who don't like to hurt other people's feelings. If cheese curls tickle your fancy, you're a highly moral person. You might appear slightly uptight, but you're actually conscientious, organised and prepared for anything.

Nut lovers are even tempered and easy going. They're good at jobs that require dealing with people and they're always willing to help. Does popcorn make you pop? Then you love taking charge but you will often hide the fact that you are successful and wealthy. If you like meaty snacks then you're extroverted, trustworthy and loyal.

What kind of comfort food do you crave? Tell us in the comment box below..

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