Whilst the lighthearted notion of “reaching for the nearest bar of chocolate” when we’re upset or stressed is something of a cliche, the sad reality is that comfort eating can have negative, long-lasting psychological consequences.
Although it’s often seen as a source of amusement when we joke about comfort eating with friends or family, emotional overeating is a very real and tangible condition that glosses over the deeper problem of an ineffective coping strategy when we’re faced with problems in our lives.
According to BUPA, identifying the emotional triggers that lead to comfort eating is one of the first practical steps you can take to ensure that you’re not reaching for the fridge door at the first sign of trouble.
With this in mind, let’s take a quick look at three of the most common reasons that can lead us down the slippery slope of comfort eating, and explore what practical mechanisms we can put in place to try and break this negative and self-destructive cycle.
EMOTIONAL EATING CAUSED BY STRESS
Sure, we all feel stressed from time to time but what leads some of us to seek out food as a comfort blanket whilst others don’t? The common denominator in all of us when we’re subjected to heightened levels of stress is the very real changes that take place within our bodies. Stress often causes an increase in cortisol (a steroid hormone) that, when released into the bloodstream, can also help us deal more effectively with stress and potential danger by increasing the body’s metabolism of glucose, controlling blood pressure and reducing inflammation.
Whilst there may not be any real danger close at hand, this common reaction to stress can lead us to crave sugary and/or fatty foods in order to give us an instant “hit” and boost our energy levels.
One helpful trick to help us resist the urge to head straight into our kitchens is to try and focus our minds with a few gentle stretching and relaxing exercises. If you’re reading this article and shaking your head because you’re thinking “that just won’t work with me”, don’t despair. We know it’s hard and we know it takes practice so try to go easy on yourself if you’re not able to do this first (or even second or third!) time around. If you can, you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised at how quickly your mind begins to quieten down. Exercise releases endorphins in the body, which can give us a positive feeling not too dissimilar to that of a”runner’s high,” and is often accompanied by a positive and energizing outlook on life.
BOREDOM COMFORT EATING
Boredom is the second ‘arch-villain’ on our hit list. Perhaps there’s nothing good on TV or maybe the phone hasn’t rung in a while and you feel like you’re at a loose end. Whatever the reason you’re feeling a tad bored, try not to slip into the familiar habit of grabbing the biscuit tin or opening a packet of crisps just to pass the time. It may sound obvious, but avoiding buying the things you’re tempted to snack on in the first place is a really effective way of breaking your comfort eating cycle caused by boredom.
To help you on your way, try grabbing that book that you’ve always been telling yourself you’re going to read someday, but just never got around to it… If you’re not much of a bookworm, how about looking ahead to planning your next holiday, or research that hobby that you’ve yet to take up? There are a myriad of things you can do, but if you’re still not feeling motivated, here are four tips to get you started.
BAD EATING HABITS
As mentioned above, one of the first steps you can take is to make a few small changes to your weekly shopping list. Be mindful of what you’re buying and the reason you’re buying it. Of course, having the odd treat here and there is perfectly fine, but try to limit the amount you buy and spend the money on something slightly healthier instead.
One huge factor that can make this especially difficult is if you’re a busy parent and you know that the kids will kick up a fuss if they don’t get the normal snacks and treats that they’re used to. This doesn’t mean you should suddenly stop buying them the things they love and have become accustomed to; it means that it’s time to become more mindful within yourself if you’re determined to kick your comfort eating habit once and for all.
Resisting dipping your hand in the ‘family packs’ of treats isn’t easy, so try and avoid distractions and focus more on the food that you’re eating. Eating at a slower rate is also a great way for your body to let you know when you’re stomach is full. So, take your time whilst relaxing and savouring that delicious meal you’ve just cooked yourself.
DON’T GIVE UP!
We hope you’ve found this post useful and have picked up a few tips to help you on your way if you’re struggling with a comfort eating habit. If you’re finding it hard to lose weight we know it can be difficult and can sometimes feel like you’re fighting a losing battle. So, stay strong, stay focused and most importantly…don’t give up!