For many of us our “go to” place when we are worried, bored, stressed, angry, upset or hurt is to eat. Often this is something we learned as children; Perhaps our parents would give us food to soothe us when we hurt ourselves or were upset. Conversely food is a cause of celebration and reward. Over time our associations to food become embedded in our neural pathways and we unconsciously turn to food in response to our emotions rather than eat only when there is a physiological need for food to fuel our body.
There are a number of strategies that we can use to break the habit of comfort eating:-
Identify Whether Hunger Is Actually Present
The moment we find ourselves thinking/looking for food we need to STOP, tune into our body to check if we are actually hungry; Check that there are physiological signs of hunger, such as a rumbling stomach. If those signs are present then the body needs food and we should eat until the body is satiated.
Connect To Emotions
If there is an absence of hunger then we must ask ourselves “what am I feeling”? Most of the time we are not paying attention to how we are feeling emotionally and the moment we feel any discomfort we automatically want to suppress it without even identifying what the emotion is. We are conditioned to soothing ourselves with food rather than addressing the cause of pain. Pain is part of the human experience and we can expect to feel it from time to time. Our feelings are a message from ourselves to ourselves and this flow of communication is continuous.
Name The Feeling
Give it a label; Happy, hurt, disappointed, bored, lonely, sad, angry etc. Acknowledge those feelings and be present with them. Then ask yourself “how much cake must I eat to feel less sad/angry/lonely”?? The answer, of course, is that food will only give us a temporary good feeling a short term gain with long-term consequences. Eating hasn’t addressed the cause of the feeling and afterwards we feel bad and beat ourselves up. It would better serve us if we can find something else that we can do to feel less this way. Such as calling a friend, engaging in a hobby, doing some exercise etc. Oftentimes there is no solution to the feeling; At those times a pragmatic attitude of accepting “what is” for now and being gentle on ourselves is all we can do.
Expect To Stumble
Humans, don’t like change, we are creatures of habit and the moment we start to change them we become uncomfortable. When we do stumble (eg didn’t take lunch to work which resulted in buying a take-away) we have two choices; We can just roll over and say “I can’t”, “It is too hard”, “I’m a failure”, or pick ourselves up and get back on track. Every “mistake” is an opportunity for learning. We can choose to look back at what happened and think about what we could have done differently. If we didn’t take lunch to work we can identify what stopped us. We may have run out of time to prepare it. Perhaps we didn’t have the ingredients to make it or were over-burdened with other tasks. Once we have identified what stopped us doing what we set out to do we can find a new strategy to achieve it. We cannot fix what we don’t acknowledge. We could perhaps ask someone else to make it, relinquish some other tasks or decide to shop more regularly.
Be Kind And Patient To Ourselves
If we are gentle to ourselves and make caring for our physical, emotional and mental self a priority then what follows is a slim healthy body. Understand that you didn’t get fat and unhealthy overnight and you won’t get slim and healthy overnight. Just love and care for yourself!
In my next article I will discuss ways to stay on track and be motivated when things get tough.
Read more about alleviating emotional eating here