By SIMMI SHARMA, sophomore
It’s twelfth period, and you’re slouched in your stuffy classroom listening to your teacher lecture about mitosis over and over. You regret sleeping late last night — or this morning — after studying for that killer test second period when suddenly, a sensation overcomes you. You frantically look around the room and spot it instantly: that irresistible brown box with the maroon lettering. As soon as the bell rings, you chase your classmate down the hallway, who opens the box, revealing the foil-wrapped treasures in all their glory. You begin to salivate as you pick out the last remaining bar of your favorite chocolate flavor and rummage through your pockets, hoping that you can find enough change. Upon parting ways, you start to doubt whether you should have spent the money, but justify your worries with the fulfillment you get from scarfing down the whole bar.
As high school students and growing teenagers, we have an inexplicable dependency on food, whether it be candy, junk food, or even well balanced meals. We find that eating is just something we never seem to stop doing. Going beyond our meals and snack breaks, there are certain times when we are completely immersed in our own cravings. What many students don’t realize is that our dependency on and desire for individual comfort foods stems from our current emotions and are triggered by our past memories or our present state of mind.
Pretend, for instance, that it’s late Thursday night and you’ve just sat down to begin a forty page reading assignment. As you internally berate yourself for procrastinating, you feel your taste buds begging for a salty snack. Unable to resist, you rip open a bag of chips and munch while you peruse the text. Sounds familiar, right? The reason behind this mysterious hunger arises from our sugary and salty foods releasing the hormones serotonin and oxytocin. Serotonin gives us a sense of well-being and happiness, while oxytocin gives us a sense of contentment and love. When you eat specific foods, their hormones promote a relaxed feeling in our bodies, which is why you have the cravings in the first place — your body feels a need to relieve itself of stress and replace it with pleasure.
Throughout our journey between childhood and adulthood, we often become buried under piles of emotions. We might be dealing with heartbreak, bad grades, or even a fight; very often, the popular solution is to simply eat away our troubles. The feeling does not necessarily need to be negative — you could have just finished a long project and felt the need to reward yourself with brownies. Food can make us feel a range of positive emotions. So when you have a bad day, you sing a sad song and proceed to bury your troubles in ice cream or perhaps in apple pie.
Our cravings also manifest themselves as nostalgia. Summertime is a mix of fond memories — the smell of smoky barbecue, the sweet, cold taste of ice cream, saccharine Italian ice, and the fried yummy goodness of funnel cake. It may not be apparent, but the taste of our favorite foods is actually capable of triggering a psychological response; just as our minds can associate the crisp smell of peppermint or gingerbread with the winter holidays, they can associate the sugary cold flavor of ice cream with hot summer days. Subconsciously, our bodies wish to stop and reminisce, perhaps about a certain happy memory, a person, or a time. These memories and the urge to return to and relive them are signaled by a pang of hunger, and are alleviated by that first scrumptious bite of food.
As amazing as we think — no, we know — our comfort foods are, it is important to remember that these foods are generally very unhealthy. It’s perfectly fine to crave a certain food and to eat away your feelings and stress from time to time; however, it can also lead to unhappiness as you observe your steadily growing waistline. All food is good only in moderation, even your comfort foods. So the next time you find yourself in class craving just one more piece of your favorite bar of chocolate, think about why exactly you may want it. It won’t be just because you’re hungry.