My name is Matt and I am a comfort eater! Yep, that’s right, I seek comfort from food, I use food as a means of making myself feel better when I am feeling down.
Sound familiar? (Maybe? Sometimes? Never?) Well in my experience from working with individual clients, online plans and even just chatting with friends, I can confidently say that most people give in to some comfort eating or drinking at some point. Some more than others but nonetheless many people can relate to seeking comfort on a plate.
In terms of prevention strategies, let’s start by reflecting upon the last occasion this happened. What negative emotion drove you to need comforting? Were you feeling stressed, overwhelmed, a bit lost? Was work getting on top of you? Family life been asking too much of you? Have you been suffering from lack of sleep?
Have a think about the situation that sparked that little voice in your head to say; “I need a glass of wine” or “a pizza is the solution” or in my case a whole tub of ice cream (and I mean a whole tub, thank you very much).
The first thing you need to acknowledge is:
X emotion = craving for comfort
BUT giving in to this craving and nailing the food or drink only offers temporary relief – the fact is it does NOT solve the problem. In fact you will likely feel even WORSE and so the need for more comfort (i.e. more food or drink) simply continues into a vicious spiral.
So why is this? Because finding comfort does not deal with the root cause of what made us feel that way in the first place.
Now this is the difficult part. You need to ACCEPT there will always be triggers that stress you out, upset you or get you down. That’s life and despite your best efforts it WILL happen. The important thing that you can control and change is how you deal with those situations and how you pre-empt them before they arrive.
For example, if every time something stresses you out you reach for a bit of chocolate to give you a boost you will come to rely on this mood booster as a solution to your problems. Chocolate acts on the opiate receptors in the brain so it will naturally give you a sense of pleasure and lift your spirits, however, the more you consume the more you lessen the effect and will need to eat more to get the same high. Suddenly a few squares doesn’t cut it and you’re nailing 100g bars to get you through the day. We’re huge fans at of dark chocolate at Fitter Food as it offers plenty of health benefits, but ideally you should be savouring it as a pleasure food not using it as Prozac.
What I’m trying to highlight here is that if you identify the triggers you can focus on breaking the mould and find other means of adapting the response of your neurotransmitters and hormones, as these are the key to whether you want to laugh, cry or keep calm and carry on. Calling a good friend, heading out for a walk or hitting the gym will all increase feel good chemicals and provide an endorphin or serotonin hit not to mention distract or distance you from the kitchen cupboards.
When cravings strike commit to doing SOMETHING you like for 30 minutes (the danger zone) and work on changing how you feel and your outlook on what has happened, which in turn will change your perceived needs.
Now I know this is easier said than done and who am I to talk, I have just confessed to being a comfort eater and told you that I reach for a tub of ice cream as the answer to my problems.
However, I am so much better than I used to be. As a business owner, self employment involves a huge workload and massive amounts of responsibility. In truth, at times I feel completely overwhelmed, nothing goes to plan and my life can be all work work work and no play. Ice cream for me can be a bit of a rebellion to all this and a ten second break from my laptop (I comfort eat as fast as I sprint!).
So what did I do?
I soon realised working too much, getting run down and feeling sorry for myself would = ice cream. So I needed to schedule in some time doing stuff I enjoy (eg. watching good films, reading etc) and if necessary I need to do it before or as soon the negative emotions kick in.
Do I still eat ice cream? Hell yeah (denial would stress me even more) but now I eat it as a conscious treat, as a planned pleasurable experience. There doesn’t need to be any drama or guilt, I just enjoy ice cream and move on.
What changed for me was identifying triggers to my comfort eating, acknowledging the warning signals and knowing ice cream does not provide the answer. After a tough day I cook up my favourite Fitter Food meal (usually manmaker pie or burgers and sweet potato chips) to nourish myself, stick on my fave TV show, get out of the kitchen and usually have an early night. I have gained control of how I respond to stress and have pretty much stopped the cycle of comfort eating and guilt.
So remember, the key to stopping comfort eating is to assess and change how things affect us. This will take some time, you have to build up a degree of strength and discover your personal coping strategies, much of which will come from experience and perhaps external support (counselling or coaching). Some days you will nail it but other days you won’t but feel good knowing it’s work in progress.
Anyway, I hope this post has helped you realise that even as a fitness professional, an individual passionate about health, training, nutritious food and feeling awesome I AM NOT PERFECT. I know what it’s like to seek comfort and I use my own personal journey to help others identify their triggers and find ways of taking control and developing more positive behaviours, whilst still being able to enjoy a little of what they fancy in life.
We will be chatting about our experiences with comfort eating and disordered eating at our Fitter Food Academy this weekend and explaining how hormones and neurotransmitters are closely involved in these behavioural traits. Our presentation of practicing daily Mindfulness with coach Paul Watson is hugely relevant here and for many the key to addressing and reversing the cycle of comfort eating. You can grab a ticket here.
Yours in health and happiness,
Matt “always a tub half full” Whitmore