Motivational Mondays: How To Stop Comfort Eating
I was inspired to write this post after talking with a new coaching client about comfort eating. It’s something that many people will relate to I’m sure.
In simple terms, when we seek comfort from food, we’re seeking pleasure from it. It’s also alleviating us from pain in some form – and that can be any kind of negative emotion – sadness, frustration, depression, anxiety, boredom etc. Given the fast-paced era of “hyper distraction” in which we live, where we’re faced with more demands on us than ever before, it’s maybe not so surprising may turn to food for comfort.
According to peak performance coach, Tony Robbins, we humans are motivated by the twin forces of pain and pleasure. Every decision we make and every action we take is a result of one or both of those forces. See this post for more details on that.
With comfort eating, it’s really a form of instant gratification. We seek pleasure from the food to take us away from the pain we’re experiencing. Sadly, we’ve essentially been conditioned to not listen to our emotions or ride the wave of our emotions – which are there for a purpose. Instead, we sweep them under the carpet by looking for methods to distract ourselves. We’ll do practically anything to distract ourselves from our emotions sometimes – and it may be as mundane as scrolling through your social media new feeds, or watching TV with no specific outcome in mind.
How many times have you switched on the TV, just hoping to find something you’ll enjoy? In Flow: Living At The Peak Of Your Abilities, psychologist Mihaly csikszentmihalyi, says that whilst we may think that watching TV to “unwind” (or distract ourselves) may appear to support our emotional needs, it doesn’t actually do our psychology any good at all. It really means we’re suppressing those emotions, and suppressed emotions lead to long-term pain and suffering.
So how do we get around this desire for satisfying that need for instant gratification of comfort eating? One way is to really become conscious of why you are seeking food for emotional needs. Which emotion are you trying to suppress? And then ask what that emotion is trying to tell you? What action signal is it providing you?
Next, one of the best things to do, is in your mind, attach more pain to comfort eating than you do pleasure. Better still, write this down, pen to paper and put it somewhere you will see it every day and be reminded of it. Let’s see if I can help with that. Sure, you’ll get pleasure immediately, and then what? Your blood sugars spike, you have that happy high and the same pleasure centres are ignited in the brain as are lit up with heroine and cocaine. (Sugar is equally as addictive too, if not more.) Insulin then extracts the excess blood sugar from your blood (to prevent your blood from becoming toxic) and deposits it into either your liver stores, muscle stores or fat stores. Your brain is then deprived of its energy source of glucose and you enter a “food coma” and you crash. If you’re fairly sedentary and prone to storing fat, that excess blood sugar gets deposited into your fat stores which swell and you gain weight. Your liver stores might also be topped up leading to fatty liver and poor liver function. It then can’t do its job properly of detoxifying your body. Belly fat and body fat will develop, leading to increased levels of inflammation. Constant sugar spikes lead to insulin resistance when you have type-2 diabetes and considerable inflammation. Hormones go out of balance. Your body can’t operate effectively. Lots of other negative things happen too.
In other words, a lot of pain is what happens with comfort eating. (Unless of course you’re comfort eating with vegetables!) Maybe you’ll feel guilty afterwards and beat yourself up. No pleasure comes from comfort eating except for in the very moment. The long-term pain outweighs the pleasure considerably – and your health is put in jeopardy.
In order to overcome the desire to comfort eat, I believe the first thing is to think about how much pain it will cause you in your life, and more so, for your children or loved ones. Think of how it makes you feel, the lack of energy you may have, the mood fluctuations and stress that comfort eating causes your brain. If you’re prone to storing fat, think of all the ways this is costing you in your life. Write them down. How will it affect your confidence? You mojo?
Next, link so much pleasure to your ideal version of you – your best self. Think how incredible you’ll feel. If you’re prone to storing fat, think of getting into great shape and all the pleasure it will being to you in your life. How will it impact your personal life, your energy levels, your sex life, your social life? How will it impact the time you get to spend with your children? How much better will you be able to perform at work when your energy levels are sky high and your mood levels don’t fluctuate like a rollercoaster throughout the day? Remember the food you eat affects you psychology in a big way – more so than you may imagine. And our psychology determines how we treat others, and how we present ourselves to the world in every way, shape and form.
In short, link so much pain to comfort eating that the very thought of it makes you cringe and feel ill.
Consider other ways to alter your state / to lift your psychology. If you’re stressed, how else can you alleviate this? Maybe adopt some conscious breathing exercises? Did you know that you can change your state in a minute or two by simply changing the way you breathe?
How would a workout affect your frame of mind? This is what I do when I’m feeling overwhelmed or if I can’t think. I’ll workout and I’ll immediately feel better. You may like to put on some music. You may wish to just sit silently with your emotions. Meditate over them. Experience them. Ride the wave of your emotions and understand they’re there for a reason. Maybe you need to have an uncomfortable conversation with someone. Avoidance is easier in the short-term, but it leads to long-term pain and suffering. By avoiding the perceived pain of confrontation, we’re going to experience long-term pain.
You might also consider eating something that does not contain sugar in it. Whilst this is still seeking food for emotional reasons, at least you won’t experience the high and energy crash and weight gain that comes with it.
- When you’re tempted to seek comfort from food, as yourself which emotion you are attempting to cover up and distract yourself from
- Ask yourself why this emotion is showing up and what action signal it is giving you?
- Link so much pain to comfort eating that the very thought of it makes you feel ill. Remember the happy high is extremely short lived
- Link so much pleasure to how you will feel and look when you choose not to look to food for emotional reasons and how amazing you’ll feel consistently when you nourish your body with wholesome, and nutritious an delicious food.
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