Do Your Snacks “Smile Back?” How to Stop Eating Your Problems

I don’t really watch TV, but I spent a lot of time hanging out with my little brother while my mom was out of town having surgery, so I’ve had more than my fair share of TV time in the past few weeks…

Has anyone seen the Goldfish Puffs commercial in which a bunch of teens are sitting in front of a television set, playing video games, and literally eating away their problems?

Look, I know that it’s just a silly commercial, it’s nothing to get worried about, blah, blah blah…

…except it’s not.

This food-like product (because anything with ingredients like “enriched degermed yellow corn meal” and “disodium inosinate” is not an actual food) is marketed as a way to dissolve away annoyances, at least in the short term.

And while it’s easy to “read too much” into the marketing messages we’re served up on an almost second-to-second basis across all of the different media we’re exposed to each day, I think it behooves us to start paying a little closer attention.

This is a commercial targeted at teenagers, who are at a point in their lives when they are starting to not only make decisions about the types of foods they want to eat, but when and why they want to eat them.

By encoding a message of stress-relief into the marketing of this product, the advertisers are helping embed the idea that we need snacks that “smile back” in order to deal with our lives.

It doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to see that constantly bombarding people with the message that they need to eat to feel better has negative effects: just take a look at those of us in my generation or older who are now struggling with binge eating, stress eating, and an over-reliance on comfort foods to deal with everything from a failing relationship to an annoying email from a coworker.

As I discussed in my recent post on emotional eating, instead of addressing the “stuff that sucks” by stuffing ourselves, we have to start doing the work on the issues instead.

So whatever your thoughts are on the actual nutritional value of Goldfish Puffs, I’d urge you to look at (or TiVo) the bigger picture: we are being sold and continue to sell ourselves the message that eating comfort food is the only way to comfort ourselves.



If you’re struggling with emotional eating, take a moment to deconstruct the messages you’re sending yourself by turning off the commercials in your head: food is only a temporary fix (and the feeling of comfort it provides is sometimes more fleeting than the “puff” of “flavor” from the first bite). Time to stop making yourself uncomfortably full and get “mind-full” instead:

  1. Make a list. What are the annoyances and stressors in your life that you’re covering up with artificial flavor?  Once they’re out of your head and on paper, they’ll be easier to address.
  2. Pick the worst one. You don’t have to change everything all at once. Even if you’re dealing with job stress, family stress, body image stress, exercise stress, and money stress (for example), if you try to address them all at the same time, you’re going to burn out. Pick the one that weighs most heavily on your mind and seems to be the most powerful trigger.
  3. Write down 1-2 things you can do right now to address the issue. If your relationship is causing the most problems in your life, maybe you and your significant other schedule a time to sit down and work through the issues. If it’s job stress, maybe you work on learning how to say “no” or your start updating your resume and cover letter. Even if there’s no immediate resolution to the problem, there are things you can do right away to start making progress toward your goal.
  4. Focus. Put down the food. Every time you’re triggered by a friendly reminder from the bank that your loan is due or an injury prevents you from lifting your PR at the gym, don’t head for the pantry. Sign onto your bank account and put down a minimum payment. Buy a brand new workout journal and start fresh–today is your PR for now, and it’s only going to get better as you heal. React by making positive progress toward resolving your stress instead of worrying about the things you can’t control.

It’s not as tasty as fake “natural flavor,” but I promise you that your list will lead you to a much better resolution.


If you’d like, feel free to share your #1 stressor in the comments below–and share what you’re going to do right now to address the issue. (Or, if you feel more comfortable, you’re welcome to share with me by email! I’m always here to listen.)

(And just so you’re not doing this alone, here’s mine: Right now, the #1 stressor I want to focus on is my social anxiety. I’m coming up on two years in California, but I’m still without a strong network of friends in my area. So two things I can do right now to address the issue are: 1) reach out to the people I do know and make concrete plans to get together (and then follow through, anxiety be damned!) and 2) join a group (whether through or a something similar) and actually go on a regular basis.)

Stay hungry,


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