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Our Need for Comfort: Jennifer’s Story

We live in a harsh world with deceit lies, and falsehoods — a world where one of our deepest needs is to be comforted but that comfort is often in vain. Any comfort received from false sources is fleeting at best, requiring us to continue in fruitless comfort-seeking behavior.
Jennifer needed comfort every day. When she prayed “Give us this day our daily bread,” she meant it for comfort not for food. Bread — in all its carbohydrate forms — was Jennifer’s comforter. She liked just about anything baked, but there was something sublime about fresh, hot, yeasty bread with its crusty, crunchy outside and soft, warm middle. And when it was slathered with sweet and salty butter…well, there just wasn’t anything more comforting to Jennifer. Often she would go to the market near her house specifically to buy a fresh loaf of French b read, knowing just what time the hot loaves would be set out on the racks by the checkout stand. Before she got the bread home, along with the other groceries she bought as cover, she would eat over half the loaf tearing off large pieces gulping them down in the front seat like someone winded gulps for air.
Life made Jennifer feel winded — physically, emotionally, and spiritulaly. Food — bread in particular — helped to ease that discomfort and give Jennifer a sense of relief. Lost within that moment of fulfillment, Jennifer felt a golden sense of being satisfied, something she rarely felt during her life-as-usual.

The only problem for Jennifer was that the fulfillment never lasted very long. By the time she got the bread home and put away the rest of the groceries, it was already starting to cool off, and the kids wanted in on the action. Before she knew it, the loaf was gone along wiht that transcendent moment of relief. Instead, it was replaced by anxiety over her weight and how much she’d eaten. Everything about the bread, it seemed, always went from warm to cold.

Food is a comfort commodity. From our earliest moments of life outside the womb, one of our first feelings of distress and discomfort comes from hunger. And one of our first feelings of being comforted comes from being fed. There were panic and agitation; there were relief and calming. Growing up, you may have lived in a household where food was given as a universal pacifier. When you were hungry, you were fed. When you were upset you were fed. When you were bored you were fed. When you were good, you were fed. When there was a reason for celebration, you were fed.
Or you could have grown up in a home where real connection was tenuus and comfort a do-it-yourself proposition. In the absence of affectionate feelings or expressed love, you learned that the comfort found in food was ultimately more reliable and always more controllable. You learned to grab comfort where you could because at your house it was in chronically short supply.

Often, because of denials and rationalizations, it can be difficult to reach an understanding of how much a role food plays in comfort seeking. People tend to downplay the need for their food of choice; they downplay the amount they actually consume of it; they downplay the importance it has appropriated in their lives. They downplay all of these things until they are asked to withhold that food of choice. When this happens, they quickly realize it has become their go-to source of comfort.

When speaking of comfort, food is the first thing that comes to my mind because of the amount of eating disorders I work with, but I have seen many other activities join the go-to-for-comfort club. I have seen that loaf of French bread replaced by a double-tall caramel macchiato. I have seen that double-tall caramel macchiato replaced by a video game controller. I have seen that game controller replaced by a credit card. I have seen that credit card replaced by the satisfaction of a verbal outburst or a sarcastic put-down.

The ways people choose to provide themselves with comfort is virtually endless. When you factor in each person’s unique situation and capacity for creativity, the permutations go off the chart.

Source: Chapter 3, “Our Need for Comfort” in
Gotta Have It! by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center for Counseling and Health Resources, Inc.
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