As individuals, we have many different ideas of comfort. Some might think of a warm fireplace as comforting, or a blanket, or cozy slippers. Others may associate food with comfort. When we feel worried or powerless, a snack or a big meal can seem like a remedy. However, in reality, food could never bring us the type of comfort we seek. Instead, we might end up feeling ashamed by our overconsumption, rather than experiencing the warm, happy feeling we expect to gain.
Commonly, this is referred to as “emotional eating.” According to the University of Michigan, emotional eating, or stress eating, is “eating for reasons other than hunger,” such as stress or feelings of powerlessness or general anxiety.
Eating For Comfort
The instinct to do something to improve your sense of wellbeing isn’t bad by itself. If you’re feeling anxiety or discomfort, there is something causing it. While the cause might be anything from stress at work to the general trials of daily life, stress does have physiological effects.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, stress can have a bad effect on the cardiovascular system, on the adrenal system, and generally leaves you feeling wiped out. A natural biological response to stress in the body is to find some fuel. A snack or a meal might make you feel like you’re doing something to improve your situation.
This cycle can lead to weight gain. Life is stressful these days. Recent statistics gathered in a Gallup poll show that stress has been increasing steadily for decades.
For some of us, our default response to stress is a snack or a meal. But if we always reach for some food when we’re stressed, our bodies will be thrown out of sync with their natural intuitions and rhythms. Our bodies tell us when they are hungry and when they are not. When we regularly reach for food without listening to our body’s cues, we throw it out of balance.
Instead, there is another way to live. There are better ways of dealing with stress, and there are better instincts to have toward food.
You can retrain your thinking and seek alternative ways to deal with stress and anxiety. Replace eating for comfort with more effective means of caring for yourself.
I’ve developed an Ultimate Guide to Stop Emotional Eating. If you’re serious about improving your relationship with food, I invite you to read the in depth guide.
For your convenience, I’ll provide some highlights to get you started. I do encourage you to look at the complete guide if this speaks to you in any way.
Introduction to the Ultimate Guide to Stop Emotional Eating
Limiting beliefs have been running you.
Stopping yourself from eating for comfort is at least half psychological. At the same time as you are trying to control your physical appetites, you are also coping with a narrative that’s been influencing your decisions your whole life. Maybe you’ve always believed that body type is dictated by genetics. Maybe in your background, meals have always equated to comfort or control. Maybe your past experiences with dieting have colored your views of your ability to lose weight. The thoughts and feelings made real by your past can’t change overnight. But, with good coaching and a good practice, they can change. I can help you with that.
2. Your body is working against you.
On a biological level, your past dieting experiences have actually trained your body to retain fat. The process is complicated, but I go more deeply into it in my training courses. We tend to move toward a cycle of creating cravings and preventing a healthy gut biome. That cycle is working against your weight loss goals.
3. Self-deprivation turns food into an addictive substance.
Most diets are built on deprivation–on removing kinds of foods or controlling portion sizes. This attitude creates a tendency to fixate on what you tell yourself you can’t have, thus creating the circumstances for developing an addictive relationship. Forbidden foods become potential objects of obsession. Changing your attitude toward food can change the probability of weight gain from those foods.
Change Your Mindset and Approach to Eating for Comfort
You should ALWAYS eat for comfort.
Wait, I hear you say, haven’t you been saying the opposite of that for this whole article?
Not exactly. I’ve been talking about the difficulties made by emotional eating, which is often referred to as eating for comfort. The whole idea of my approach is a change in mentality–a change in attitude.
So why can’t we change our attitude toward eating for comfort too? Rather than “eating our feelings away,” we should eat in order to feel comfortable. That means a new approach to understanding what comfort feels like.
It’s never comfortable to feel too full. But it is comfortable to feel satisfied.
It’s never comfortable to feel like we ate something heavy. But it is comfortable to eat good fuel for our daily activities.
Eating isn’t bad for you. In fact, it should be enjoyable. You can still eat with pleasure in mind and not always worry about every item being healthy. With practice of changing your relationship with food, you can retrain yourself to a better sense of self-worth. You can help yourself discover a better relationship with eating. Once you do, eating for comfort makes perfect sense, because you will have a better sense of what really makes you feel comfortable and how to get there.