Comfort eating is a phrase that’s used often but does food really bring us comfort, here we discuss some tips for managing when eating has become a negative experience.
Many of us talk about comfort food without much meaning behind it, in fact there are many common phrases used we often say without giving it much thought. There are also people who may think into what we’ve said more, and it can take up a lot of brain space. Food is a very common thing that many people find takes up a lot of time in their thoughts, and on some occasions can lead to potentially negative emotions. Food is a common go-to to soothe emotions regardless of what the feeling is and can become the only solution to when we feel emotions. Here are some tips to help manage if you feel food is ruling situations.
1. Remember you are in control!
Food should fit with your life, not you fitting around food. Remembering you have the choice of what to eat and when to eat it, so think what might affect you in a positive way – regular meals and snacks will mean a steady stream of nutrients into the body that keeps our energy levels topped up and prevents us becoming too hungry which can also affect mood and concentration. You never need permission to eat and fuel your body. Hydration is also key to remember as we often eat when we are thirsty.
2. Is the food bringing you comfort?
Sometimes we eat when we are not physically hungry. We feel a hunger or a craving but it may actually be for something non food related. For example, many people eat when bored to pass the time – our body does not have the need for food but our brain needs stimulation or a distraction. A key tip is to try and think about whether the ‘hunger’ we feel is a hunger for food, if it is not then providing a distraction or doing something you enjoy can give your brain what it wants and beat the boredom. I often ask clients to make a list of activities they can do when this situation arises, as having eating as the only activity in this situation can lead to negative emotions and people feeling like they are overeating. In fact, they are not listening to the body. Seeking support from a dietitian or nutritionist can help you to work on this awareness and being more mindful when eating so that each time we eat counts and provides positive nutrition for the body.
3. Does the food soothe the emotions?
First of all though, are we aware of the emotions? There are times when we really don’t know how we feel, and that’s fine however food can be used to comfort emotions when we’re having a bad day, or celebrating or anything in between. If we aren't aware of our emotions then we can’t respond in the best way, another key step is recognising how you actually feel then you can decide the best course of action. For some people this is not something they do often, or they care for other’s needs but don’t always consider their own. Have you ever worried about how a loved one or a pet is feeling? (In our house the world revolves around our now 9 month old puppy!) Try to reflect this onto yourself too and think about how you actually feel. It is fine to feel rotten sometimes, and accept that as it will pass. If you know how you feel then you can respond with an action that helps you to relax, or calm down, or boost your mood and meet the need.
Again, thinking of some non-food activities can be helpful to use in these times and everyone is different so it is a very personal thing, a relaxing bath, a good comedy or a chat with a friend on the phone. Is food sometimes the answer? YES! Sometimes we feel a certain way and the only thing we want is our favourite treat, this is fine too. If you feel the other activities you enjoy will not meet your needs but the food will – have it and enjoy it. In this case the food will provide the comfort and it is important that food is an enjoyable thing as it takes up a big part of our lives and culture. People can run into difficulty when they find food or eating is the only way to soothe emotions, or treat boredom.
4. When food does provide comfort.
Food provides energy, vitamins and minerals and many beneficial things that keep us alive. This is comforting. Consider the food that provides this positive nutrition that gives your body what it needs. There are a very wide range of foods that provide this in different quantities and I’m sure as you’ve read this you’re thinking of the foods you enjoy that make you feel good. Thinking of granny’s cooking or a meal shared with family. A wide variety of meals and snacks can help make food feel more satisfying and bring that comfort. If you ever feel unsure of what to eat think about whether it will make you feel good for eating it.
It is never too late to start thinking differently or improve a relationship with food. Small steps can also make a big difference so any effort is worth it for the end result! Book an appointment to discuss your needs individually. This article is written by Chloe a registered dietitian that can help you manage your relationship with food. Contact us to book Chloe's expertise.