Comfort Eating is one of those topics I read in blogs with a sort of love-and-loathe-squinted-side-eye look. I’m fascinated to learn and read about other peoples journeys, and some that go so deep into the depths bordering on full blown binge eating (which is a whole other ball game)… but lately this whole issue has been weighing heavily on my mind (no pun intended) so I thought i would put pen to paper, so to speak, and share a little bit about my own thoughts.
For a long time I’ve wanted to talk to you all about the concept of comfort, and what better time than in the lead up to the Holidays. As the nights draw in closer, darker and colder plus the festive feasting vamps up to 10 000 watts – what is the best way to tackle the difficult roadblock of comfort eating? I just wanted to share a little bit about my own journey, as well as things that I have been studying about the origins of comfort related to attachment theory, and how we can use this knowledge to go from a place of emotional comfort eating, to someone that eats comfortably whatever is going on around them (and yes, comfort and joy is truly possible)
So what is comfort? the definition of comfort is to provide soothing to someone in pain or at distress. Mothers do this with their young children all the time subconsciously as they rock them to sleep or give them a “comforter” dummy to stop them crying. Some would argue that the whole concept of comfort eating stems from the day we are born, that we cry to seek our mothers milk and this soothes us in time of distress even as a newborn. Research studies show that its not just about the physical aspect of calories in – so many factors around bonding and attachment (such as physical closeness, hormones released, eye contact, touch, smell and voice of the caregiver) play a huge factor in giving comfort – we learn from a young age that food and nutrition can usually give us a lot more than just what it says on the tin (or in the bottle!)
For those of us that have in the past or continue to struggle with comfort eating where does this all fit in? I don’t want to be too graphic about this, because I feel that all our stories are different, and we all have a different make up that in turn reflects on how we manage not only with stress, but also on how we perceive and accept comfort. The other day I was asked in a group setting to think to myself about what in my life gives me comfort, or where i go when I feel like i need something comfort.
… is it wrong that THE FIRST thing that came to my mind was FOOD
Not just any food. My mothers famous home made dish of Sri lankan string hoppers (rice noodles) with lashings go coconut milk gravy and mutton curry and coconut sambol. I’m salivating just thinking of it! (The Diner Hotdog by the way came a very close second)
This has been playing on my mind for ages. I got annoyed with myself that my first (and second) gut reaction was food. Surely I’m “totally over” that. I’ve lost loads of weight, I’m not that “f*t” girl I was back in the day. I’m so beyond binge-ing daaarling. I didn’t have to share that with the group (thank God) but I was so ashamed, embarrassed even. It bugged me.
But after dissecting it I realised its not the food that was the comfort – sure – its a part of it – but its the memories of my mother, the warmth of the plate, the crossing my legs sitting in my sofa at home in my pjs, gossiping with her, and the food was a vehicle for that bonding and attachment for us.
But who can blame us? In our society food is often exploited for celebrations (birthday cake, celebratory dinners, and don’t even get me started on Christmas!) and in a lot of cultures, such as mine, food (and feeding) is a sign of love. I don’t know if you have seen it but this month Weight watchers have just released a cracking advert that poignantly deals with this whole issue of the cultural aspects of eating in a funny manner!
My feeling is that for those of us that struggle with comfort eating, somewhere along the line, usually in our childhood, food became a main source, or at least a linked source / replacement of comfort for us, and this happens to the best of us.
I carried this food = love idea and comfort eating ethos for many years – even after I left home and went to university. I comfort ate a lot during my exams, and all the throws of someone immersed in early twenty something single life. I even carried into my relationship (see my last post on the truths on healthy eating as a couple for a snapshot) and my first year of marriage.
I tell this to everyone I know, but the biggest thing in the healthy eating and lifestyle turn around is the mental and emotional changes one must make and the habits you break to form new healthier ones. I had got to a place that despite my best efforts and initial weight loss by “being good” I found myself in front of my fridge, alone, again, and thinking…. what now?
Tackling my personal issue with comfort eating has been one of the best favours I did for myself – instead of avoiding the issue, I have acknowledged and accepted I have used and sometimes still use food for comfort, but that I’m also not a child anymore, and I can comfort myself in so many other ways other than resorting to whats lurking in the back of my cupboards/takeaway on speed dial.
So how do you tackle comfort eating? I feel it goes back to the concept of soothing the pain and distress… so instead of going on autopilot that “food fixes all” mentality – there are other, healthier, kinder ways that we can manage this (without the weight gain and feeling rubbish about ourselves in the aftermath).. If any of this rings bells for you and you are interested in learning more about this, I would recommend reading up about “self soothing techniques”. Essentially, in many ways it takes us back to that newborn status – where we seek comfort via our senses (touch, smell, sight, hearing and of course taste). In addition to reinforcing a new lifestyle by working out and eating healthy, you can try self soothing activities/things such as:
– running a hot bath/shower
– lighting a perfumed candle
– listening to some soothing music
– holding and sipping a hot cup of herbal tea/ hot chocolate (my personal favourite this time of year)
– snuggling up in a blanket or jumper for warmth
– experimenting with doing your hair and make up differently
– updating your personal care routine (getting some new scrubs and moisturisers for example)
– give someone a hug
– knitting/crocheting or hand quilting with lovely fabrics
I know the saying goes that old habits die hard, but I do believe they fade eventually and you don’t have to be a slave to your old comfort eating self. I’ve now got into the habit of drinking hot herbal teas when I am “craving” warm comfort food, and I also am lighting more candles which is something new to me – I even treated myself to a new candle to mark the transition in my habits!
I hope that this gives even just one person a different perspective on the idea of comfort and comfort eating, and will be of help in changing your relationship with food (and yourself) for the better so that you can be someone that eats with comfort and joy!
lots of love