Overcoming emotional eating

Today’s blog, inspired by an article I wrote for the NZ Herald, is all about why we tend to turn to emotional eating for comfort, and how to overcome that.

The phenomenon of using food to comfort eat is well-documented. Think back to Bridget Jones and her Darcy-less weekends of ice cream and vodka binging! It’s something I think is important to look at without judgement: I would say 99% of us have comfort eaten at some point, and for some it is a regular coping strategy after a hard day or a bruising life encounter. So, why is that? What’s going on? Why do we keep doing it even though we know really, we don’t want to?

The thing with comfort eating is … well … it kind of works. Temporarily we do get comfort. We can forget about being sad while we eat – yay! And then, mere moments after we have finished the half litre of ice cream, we can forget about being sad as we can focus on hating ourselves for eating all that ice cream! Genius! The self-hating talk can fill the gap where the sadness would be. We do get comfort from feeing sad / frustrated / alone / whatever. In a while, however, that wears off and we start to feel sad again, which doesn’t feel good, so to escape it, the next cycle of comfort eating will begin. And on we go…

What’s the solution? Well, sorry to say it, but the way out of feeling sad / frustrated / guilty and so on is by allowing yourself to feel that sadness in the short term. Allow it. Feel it and then let it move through you. Let yourself feel what you feel. Acknowledge it. Painful emotions can’t actually be healed, dissolved, dodged, escaped or avoided with ice cream: they only get hidden to bite us again in the bum later.

If we can pause long enough to put down the spoon, we would be better served to ask ourselves the following questions:

> Why am I sad?

> What can I do to release this sadness? How can I be brave and allow myself to feel it? Maybe it’s having a good long cry. Maybe it’s a solo walk on the beach. Maybe it’s a sad songs playlist. Maybe it’s talking things through with your mum or best friend. Whatever works for you.

> What NON-food things bring me genuine comfort or connection? It might be calling a friend, or watching a particular movie, or walking in nature, or a girls’ night out or a great podcast that always makes you feel understood.

If you turn to comfort eating, I’d challenge you to be kind to yourself and list10 non-food things that bring you comfort or connection. Remember, we eat emotionally because we are trying to change our emotional state. So, think of 10 things that can be your “go to” list that create new and positive emotions in you, calorie free.

Action step

Remember: Comfort eating does not really bring comfort. It just blocks the thoughts of sadness. It doesn’t make them disappear, it just stores them up for another day. It’s not food’s job to deal with your sadness. It’s yours. Allow yourself to be sad if you are sad. There is no emotion so extreme or powerful that you cannot bear it. Support yourself with non-food-based sources of comfort and you will come through.


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