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How to Eat Comfort Food When You're Stressed

By Maria Menounos | February 14, 2018 | Rally Health

I love comfort food, everything from a good loaded potato skin or pile of nachos to the sweet Greek delicacies that I grew up with. When I think about cravings and how I eat comfort food, the answer is deceptively simple: I just indulge. But I think the most important thing isn’t the occasional time you give in to a craving or have that big meal. It’s how you eat and live the rest of the time.

I wrote a whole book about my diet and fitness regime, and in it, I talk about the 75-25 split. I eat clean around 75 percent of the time, and the other 25 percent, I have a little bit of fun. The fun might be fast food, it might be going a little wild with sweets on vacation, or it might just be a big home-cooked holiday meal. Whatever the case, I  believe that we should enjoy our food: both eating it, and preparing it — that’s why I wrote my cookbook, The EveryGirl’s Guide to Cooking. I’ve filled it with my favorite recipes: Some are healthy, some are indulgent.

I’ve never approached indulgence as a negative, as so many diet books do. Instead, if I want something, I’ll have it… but I’ll also balance it out. I was just on vacation, and I was having a lot of fun, food- and drink-wise. I was having the most sugary, unhealthy things. But when I got home, I cleaned up my diet in a big way. I went back to drinking tons of water and choosing meals that were primarily salad or vegetables with things like fresh fish. So it’s always a balance in that way, rather than eating “perfect” all the time. That’s not sustainable, for me at least.

I watch friends do this all the time: They go into these cleanse or detox places after going crazy with food. They just go to extremes each way. Me, I don’t live in the extreme. I feel as if I fare so much better. I know my body: I know I move a lot, and I eat to fuel it and to make myself happy.

I’m never not going to give in to a craving. I’m not going to say, “I really want French fries, but I’m going to make a different something that’s healthier.” I get what I want, and then I’ll go for a walk after, or clean up the next meal.

That said, it’s easy for people not to realize how sedentary they are. Moving throughout the day is what really allows me to stay healthy while giving into cravings. You can’t work in an office from 9 to 5 and eat whatever you want, and think that just because you're going to go to the gym that night for one hour, that you’re OK. It’s not like that. You need to figure out ways to be moving, to be burning, throughout the day if you want to be able to have a bit more freedom food-wise. Otherwise, you have to be OK with the consequences.

I also love cooking, and being able to prepare foods that satisfy my cravings while still being a bit more healthy is a great way to indulge. In my cookbook, I have a great recipe for Over-Loaded Stuffed Potatoes that satisfies my desires for loaded potato skins, while swapping some of the unhealthy stuff for better quality ingredients, like switching whole-fat sour cream for a reduced-fat option.

Or, if you crave something sweet, but know your body needs something with a bit more sustenance and some whole food goodness, smoothies are a great option. Before I had my surgery in July to remove the tumor in my brain, and during my recovery, I was all about having a morning smoothie because in addition to tasting great, it helped me get my vitamins, proteins, and veggies.

In my cookbook, I have a whole chapter on smoothies because they’re easy, delicious, and can give you a boost that sometimes chocolate alone can’t provide. I love the Tropical Paradise Smoothie for an easy blend that tastes beachy and fun, but also adds in nonfat Greek yogurt for a protein boost. For a more extreme, veggie-focused smoothie, I love my Fantastic Five (named after the “Fantastic Four” movie, in which I had a role!). It combines kale, avocado and cucumber for healthy greens and fat, plus grapes and almond milk to make it sweeter.  

Want something more warm and dessert-like? My recipe for Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies with Toasted Pecan is healthier than what you’ll get in a bakery, with good old-fashioned oats for fiber, plus pecans and shredded coconut for some healthy fat and protein. And when you take the time to actually bake the cookies rather than buying them, it’s a lot more satisfying.

I also am a huge fan of getting out in nature and just going for a walk to combat stress, rather than turning to treats or snacks. Giving in to a craving is great, but if you’re only eating junk food when you’re having a bad day (and for a while, it seemed like those bad days were happening pretty frequently to me), you might be doing more harm than good by reaching for the chips rather than the veggies.

If you’re craving something like a hummus or other dip, maybe even swap the chips for carrots or cucumber.  

And when you do indulge, focus on really enjoying those foods: Eat mindfully, and stop when you’re full, not when the plate is empty!

Another great way to avoid overindulging is to drink hot water with lemon all day. Sometimes we think we are hungry when really, we’re dehydrated. The hot water is great because you drink it slowly and it truly does give you a calming feeling — great for when you’re stressed. Plus, you won’t be eating because you’re actually just thirsty! That helps you make better decisions all around, choice-wise and size-wise.

Basically, you have to develop a better relationship with food. You have to look at it, for the most part, as something that’s meant to fuel your body, give you energy, and provide your body the vitamins it needs. But of course, we’re human, and we all want to have a little bit of fun, so it’s got to be less about what you “can” or “can’t” eat. If you have a really indulgent weekend, like a birthday, just do what I do and clean up after that. You know how to dip your foot in the pond and have fun, but you should also know how to jump back out.

Maria Menounos
Rally Health