Autumn is on its way, bringing with it cool weather, a slew of holidays, report cards, and beautiful colors. Oh yes, and an onslaught of hot, heavy, delicious recipes for what we affectionately call “comfort food”. There’s nothing like curling up on the couch, wearing your partner’s thickest and wooliest sweater, with a steaming bowl of chili or a thick slab of apple pie, right? Bears don’t hibernate this well.
We hate to be spoilsports, but…maybe this is the year you scale back the comfort food a little bit.
If we haven’t lost you at this point, here us out.
We know you’ve been keeping it fresh and light during the summer months and you’re looking forward to the baked goods, soups, and fresh bread we associate with fall. We are not suggesting that you cut these amazing things out of your life. After all, isn’t the whole point of living to do it well?
However, we are suggesting that moderation is key to everything, and that extends to your health and diet.
And by implementing it this autumn, you won’t only receive the benefits from eating well, you’ll experience less back pain.
Let’s talk about why this will be the case, and what you can do to make it happen.
We move around less often in the autumn
Take a look at your kids. Or your neighbor’s kids. See how active they’re being? How can us adults even keep up with that amount of energy?
Well, studies have found that children are less active during the fall. So you can bet that grownups are as well.
It’s true that weight loss — and eliminating weight-related back pain — has less to do with exercise and more to do with our diet. All the same, perhaps comfort food wouldn’t be such a bad thing if we were more active. Unfortunately, the last thing you want to do after a steaming bowl of chicken dumplings is to go for a jog.
Indirectly, heavy autumn dishes create a negative culture for your back. All the sitting around you do after eating comfort food (and let’s face it, you’re not focusing on good posture) is bad for your spine.
More directly, most comfort food doesn’t provide enough of the proper nutrients to support the spine and so you’ll be prone to back pain whether you sit or not.
The fact that we are less mobile as the weather cools can lead to a host of back problems. By eating less comfort food, you’ll feel and be more active.
And that means less back pain from being sedentary.
Certain comfort food can hurt your spine
Unfortunately, it’s true. And what foods are at the top of the list? Sugar, hydrogenated oil, refined grains, trans fats, and dairy. In other words, most of what makes your favorite autumn baked goods so delicious.
All these and other foods have at least one thing in common. They are “inflammatory foods”, meaning quite simply that they set the stage for bodily inflammation. This can lead to heart disease and joint and back pain.
Specifically for your back, inflammatory foods cause the muscles to contract without every relaxing. All that tension leads to poor spinal health and quite a bit of pain. More like “discomfort foods”.
While there are plenty of foods that reduce inflammation, let’s face it, the tastiest bread bowls and mouth-watering pecan pies won’t do you any favors. Just remember — moderation is key.
We won’t swear off all these foods completely nor do we suggest you must do the same. But limiting how much of them you eat this fall will keep your heart and spine healthy.
Changing up the menu keeps things running
Just like you can’t run a car on oil alone, ignoring other fluids such as engine coolant or transmission fluid, your body requires a wide array of “top offs” to function properly.
Therefore, we encourage a varied diet to ensure you’re getting all your vitamins in the right doses. Here you’ll find a little saving grace, for thankfully, comfort foods are not completely devoid of nutrition. In fact, many recipes can be altered to create heart-and-joint-healthy comfort foods. However, you must keep yourself open to other less-fun foods.
A few suggestions:
Get your calcium and from natural sources
Anti-inflammatory foods high in calcium will specifically reduce pain in your back and joints. Great sources of calcium include yogurt, milk, and cheese. So the question remains — what tasty dishes incorporate robust calcium reserves? We’re sure you can think of many.
Up your magnesium intake
A common problem among American adults is magnesium deficiency. How can you keep your levels up this autumn? You can find magnesium in alternatives to classic comfort food such as black beans in a vegetarian chili or baked potatoes (with skin). A healthy intake of magnesium supports bone density, providing strength to the spine.
How often you eat is key
We have become very used to the notion of a three-meal day. Studies have shown, however, that five or six small meals per day are more effective in keeping you energized. Doing so will strengthen your back muscles as they keep you upright and moving.
Preparing comfort food isn’t always comfortable
This may seem like a silly point to bring up, but the actual preparation of many of your favorite comfort foods can be physically taxing, especially on your back. From rigorous hand-mixing or pulling heavy ingredients off the shelf, your back often pays for your sweet tooth.
The solution to this problem again lies with moderation — and healthy kitchen technique.
There are a lot of different opinions on how to best fight against back pain in the kitchen while preparing your comfort foods. Here are a few suggestions:
Use the crockpot as often as possible
Right off the bat, crockpots turn potentially complicated meals into a simple drag-and-drop operation. Save yourself the extra potential strain on your back by simply adding the ingredients to the crockpot, setting the timer, and walking away. But remember to exercise some restraint here — it’s very easy to use the crockpot as an excuse to make all kinds of comfort food. When you make crockpot meals work in your favor, you can maintain both back and heart health.
Stand like a giraffe drinking water
This is for our more vertically-inclined readers who may experience back pain as a result of low countertops. An extended period of time hunched over the counter, whatever you’re doing — slicing apples, kneading dough, or assembling a panini — can subtly put stress on your spine. Try widening your stance, like a giraffe drinking water, to lower your midsection and promote better posture for your back. This is also a handy trick for washing dishes or brushing your teeth.
Eat smaller portions
Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s better for you and whatnot. We’ve heard it all before. But an added bonus to limiting your portions is that you have more leftovers in the days to come. That eliminates the need for additional food prep, which will protect your back, and so on. Eat smaller portions or expand the recipe’s serving size to prevent future back pain.
Whether food prep creates or worsens back pain, it is important that you don’t let it go unattended. Be sure to consult a professional about your options for eliminating your back pain.
Are comfort food and back pain really that related?
Does it have the same correlation as smoking and lung cancer? Possibly. What about high levels of bad cholesterol and heart health? Could be. And while it may not affect your back in the same way a physical injury does, healthcare professionals have discovered that diet affects spine health in a big, big way.
Which means that, unfortunately, many comfort foods lend to back pain.
Unless you consume them in moderation.
The solution is not to expunge delicious, soul-warming soups and treats from your life. As we’ve noted, many of your favorite autumn dishes may even provide nutrition. And obviously, they certainly taste good.
However, as you limit your comfort food intake, you will limit the amount of inflammatory food you consume. You will feel less inclined to recline. You won’t experience the pain and fatigue that can accompany hours of laborious food prep. And the more well-rounded your diet, the less well-rounded your figure.
And that’s all we want for you.