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Real comfort food feeds the soul, not just the belly

Here’s a reader question that just came in, and I think it’s a good one, something we have to think about if we’re looking to break our food obsessions:

“I’m sure I need to read the book, but I’m wondering how to embrace the fact that food IS comfort on some level, we can’t really separate that from our experience with it. I love the image of Jesus cooking for the disciples on the seashore, when they had been out fishing all night. And in fact He gives HIMSELF to us as food! So it seems counter-intuitive to me to try to minimize the comfort aspect of our relationship with food in the quest for health, as people often do. How do you see this issue?”

You’re right, food is central to our faith and to the stories of the Gospel. The disciples recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread, after all! What we need to remember, however, is that it wasn’t just about the food they ate; it was about the community, the conversation, the sharing that went on during these meals. That’s where we need to put our focus. Even with Eucharist, it’s not just a matter of receiving the Body of Christ but sharing the Body of Christ with others, becoming the Body of Christ in the world around us.

Yes, food can be comforting, but when the food in and of itself is providing the only comfort, we run into trouble. Are we seeking comfort by standing at the open pantry and eating cookies from the box, or are we seeking comfort by gathering some friends together for a delicious meal eaten slowly as we talk and laugh? Two very different ways of finding comfort through food.

It can be hard to break those old comfort patterns. I’m right there with you. There’s nothing I like more than a big dish of homemade mac and cheese after a crazy day or a big dish of ice cream before bed, but the reality is that those things provide fleeting comfort with lasting regret. Can we rethink our food-comfort connections and begin to widen the circle? Invite friends over. Cook with friends. Meet friends for lunch. But don’t make it about the food; make it about the conversation and friendship and community. We can put our focus there.

As you build up your support network and redefine the ways food can comfort you, you’ll probably find that you no longer need to go to “bad” foods in unhealthy quantities to soothe your soul. You’ll be able to call a friend or maybe simply settle into prayer to talk with Jesus in the silence of your heart and find comfort sans calories.

Jesus gave us himself as food. As I say in my book, we need only one morsel of Communion to be nourished and fed. We don’t need plates filled to overflowing. And so it can be in our day-to-day lives. We have enough. We are enough. Can we accept that and create new food-comfort rituals that will feed our hearts and souls and not just our bellies?

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