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Comfort food macaroni close up
Photograph: Andy Parsons

Here’s why you should never feel guilty about eating for comfort

By Emma Hughes

Yes, food is fuel, but it’s so much more. Emma Hughes explains how she became a weightlifting foodie

I used to think eating for pleasure and being strong were incompatible concepts. Then a Mars bar changed everything. I was in one of the weightlifting classes I go to three times a week at my gym. An out-of-towner – who, judging by his arms, was no stranger to barbells – had signed up to do a drop-in session, and he ran in as we were starting. He was eating, which isn’t unusual for serious weightlifters. But when I saw that he was tearing through caramel rather than 30 grams of protein, dust and sadness, like I’d been forcing down, my heart soared.

I’d been living a double life, you see. I’d refuel after leg day with fluffy chips from Sutton and Sons or Jolene’s pastries, not chicken and broccoli. Gym-me would religiously track her lifts, then not-gym-me would go home and eat arancini instead of protein balls. And I felt bad about it. I’d swallowed fitness Instagram’s messaging whole: if you want to be healthy you have to follow a diet dictated by macros, food pyramids and MyFitnessPal alerts, rather than curiosity, pleasure or even hunger. And it just wasn’t me. Ruby Tandoh writes in ‘Eat Up’ how eating has become a ‘chore’. This is an age of ‘gains’, of food as fuel: a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. But it can be so much more.

Comfort food, in the Western imagination, means cheesy carbs. But ultimately, it’s whatever makes you feel good – and in a city like this one, that isn’t (and shouldn’t be) limited to Anglocentric stodge, it can mean bright spicy laksa, rich jollof and chest-warming osso buco. In fact, it has less to do with ingredients than your attitude to them: it could even be a protein box from Muscle Meals eaten in a cool-down zone if that’s truly what your stomach yearns for. Or a Mars bar.

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