If you turn to food for comfort when you are bored, anxious or depressed, it’s worth breaking the habit and looking at the cause.
It can be hard to tell if you’ve developed a comfort eating problem, especially if it has lasted for years. Take a look at our guide to help you identify comfort eating, and learn how to be a more mindful eater.
What Is Comfort Eating?
Most of us grew up with food being a treat, with sweets given out as a reward or to make us feel better. This can continue into adult life, and for some people can become a real problem.
Comfort eaters often overeat fatty, sugary foods, rather than healthy fare, even when they are not hungry. They might be feeling stressed or anxious, bored, have low self-esteem or a lack of confidence, or be suffering from depression. They might not even realise they have a problem. Eating food for comfort might also make people think back on happy times.
If you regularly comfort eat, especially to excess, you might be a binge eater. Binge eating is a disorder where a person feels compelled to regularly overeat. It can affect both men and women, and is more common in older adults than children.
When a person eats sugary food it causes their blood sugar to spike, which makes the brain think that more food is needed, causing a craving for yet more sugary food. Between the spike in blood sugar and the feel-good chemicals activated by fat and sugar, the eater will consume more than they need to. Once they have eaten, however, they could feel sugar cravings, headache, sweating, disgust and guilt, and the high calorie content of these foods can cause weight fluctuations.
Break The Habit
If you have a habit of turning to food for comfort when you’re sad or stressed, it’s important that you recognise the impulses behind this pattern.
A good way to work out if you do have a problem with food is to keep a daily diary of what you eat and how you feel. It might seem boring, but if you get in the routine of writing down everything you ate and what your mood was you might start to see a correlation. It might also make you more mindful of the temptation to turn to unhealthy food.
If you notice that you do turn to food when you feel a particular emotion, create a new habit instead. Try listening to – or playing – upbeat music. Go dancing or swimming to enhance your mood naturally. Take up gardening or do a household job you’ve been putting off. If you comfort eat late at night then read a book instead, or take a relaxing bath.
Plan your meals in advance and don’t buy anything that you’re likely to binge on. If you don’t have chocolate, crisps or biscuits in your cupboard, you won’t overeat them. Stock up on healthy food, like popcorn, apples, carrots, bananas, or tangerines.
If you do have sweets or fatty foods in the house, think about portion control. Buy small bars of chocolate instead of six packs or large bars. Buy individual bags of crisps rather than family packs.
Don’t use fatty food as a reward or treat when you do something good and it might help you to stop thinking of it as a ‘comfort’. If you feel tempted to eat fatty food, try to put it off for a little while to see if the craving wanes.
Sometimes you can’t help but slip back into old habits and eat comfort food. If you do, try not to be too hard on yourself, and instead focus on what made you reach for it in the first place, and what you can change.
Do you ever turn to food for comfort?
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