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Elaine Dembe Headshot

Finding Inner Peace at the Food Court

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My patients have the impression that I am a perfect role model when it comes to nutrition -- never deviating from the health and wellness regimens that I espouse. I've even been called the Queen of Quinoa, as I'm either handing out my latest favourite quinoa recipe, or running to my office fridge to show off Dembe's longevity special for the day (often Tuscan kale salad).

So you can imagine the shock on a patient's face when I bumped into them at Costco's snack bar where I was face deep in the most delicious beef hot dog, bun oozing with Heinz ketchup, French's mustard and Bick's green relish. Oh, and I was also inhaling a side of fries.

Initially I had no intention of eating "junk food." My girlfriend and I out were in the midst of a shopping expedition and we got hungry. We passed the snack bar, and the aroma seemed to awaken some joyful childhood memories deep within the recesses of my neurons. I surveyed the tables packed with shoppers and I noticed it wasn't just the kids eating those damn amazing hot dogs.

My girlfriend laughed as she listened to me moan with delight as I took my first bite.

From a psychological standpoint, that hot dog and 3 familiar condiments represented more than lunch -- they were my solace objects.

Solace objects are items that recapture the soul of our childhood and that deep sense of soothing comfort we felt when we were young. I recognized my need for solace objects when I lived alone after my marriage ended. I noticed that when I slept on flannel sheets, I would have the most wonderful feeling of safety and comfort and I would fall asleep immediately.

As infants, we are emotionally bonded to our mothers. They love us, they cuddle us, and they care for us. As we get older -- between 2 and 6 -- we realize that our mothers are not there solely for our benefit, so we often become attached to a teddy bear, a soft blanket, or a doll.

According to an article in the New York Times by Dr. Paul Horton, a psychiatrist who has done extensive research on solace, says:

"'the transitional object''' [are] things animate or inanimate that are experienced by people in a reliably soothing manner, and that connect us in some way with the comfort of the maternal presence."

Even as adults, we still need those "snugly blankets" and foods which hold a powerful connection to our past. Mashed potatoes, peanut butter and jam, and Kraft dinner can be the equivalent of a dinner from a Michelin star restaurant in our hearts.

Solacing objects can take many forms such stuffed animals, music, a favourite book or childhood story, photographs, happy memories and family rituals.

When I was a child, my mom would make my brother and me a bedtime snack of hot tea with honey and milk, and buttered challah toast. We never went to sleep hungry. This 60 plus year old still can't imagine going to sleep without enjoying this nighttime ritual.

I recently discovered that one of my sinus pressure techniques provided solace for a patient suffering from tension headaches. Whenever I gently massaged his forehead, he sighed deeply and relaxed completely. When I asked him about this, he said that his mom always used to caress his forehead before bedtime. Robert, who realizes just how powerful that specific childhood memory is for him, now strokes his own forehead whenever he feels stressed.

No matter what our age or stage in life is, we each need to create an oasis of solace in our daily lives. Think about what or who has nurtured you. Was it A flannel nightgown? A hot bubble bath? A massage? Childhood songs? Hot chocolate with marshmallows? A soft, fluffy cat? Do you have a special pillow you sleep on? Teddy bears on your bed? (I have three bears and a moose!) Think of some of your special, happy childhood memories and you will rekindle that feeling of being loved and cared for. Solace may be as close as two arms giving you a hug -- one of the best feelings in the whole world.

Around the Web

Solace - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster ...

Solace - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia