The truth about comfort eating and how to stop…
So , you’re in the middle of a messy break-up.
Or maybe the dust has just settled on your divorce settlement and you’re trying to pick up the pieces.
Whatever the circumstances that have led to your newly-single status, you’re almost certainly feeling a little lost, sad, overwhelmed, vulnerable and angry.
And at time of stress and upheaval when you should be feeding your body with good nutrition to help the mental and physical healing process, that’s probably the last thing you feel like doing.
But before you launch into the chocolate chip cookies and Prosecco with great gusto, let me be a voice from the future. I can confidently predict that if you give in to this urge to self-sabotage, you’re going to feel better for a very short space of time. We’re talking minutes, here!
When you come down from your sugar high or your hangover kicks in, then you’re going to feel a lot worse.
And this is going to lead you into an ever-decreasing circle that is going to end in an ever-increasing waistline.
That is not what you want just as you’re about to embark on life as a confident, sexy singleton again.
Now, I’m not naïve enough to think that just because, as a fitness and good habits coach, I’ve told you not to do this, you’re going to listen to me.
Chances are, you’re probably not. Not right now, anyway.
And that’s because the urge to comfort eat is exactly that, an urge. It’s an impulse-driven behaviour and when you get into that mindset, proverbial wild horses couldn’t keep you out of the sweetie cupboard.
What would help you more, then, is to explain the behavioural science behind these patterns. Then, once you realize why your subconscious mind drives you to distract yourself with food, you can take back the power. And that’s going to make you feel good about yourself, which is what you need right now more than anything.
So why is it then that we hug ourselves with refined carbohydrates, especially when the emotional chips are down? Why when we’re fed up, angry, stressed or upset in any kind of way do we seek comfort in those foods we know we should not eat? You know the stuff. The simple sugary, high fat, treats that, in that instant we’re shoving them into our mouths, make us feel better.
Is it because we’re stupid, weak-willed and lacking in self-control? Is it because we’re worthless individuals incapable of making the right choices?
How many of you feel that way after a chocolate binge; amazing while you’re shoving it into your mouths, then knocked-sideways by post-choc remorse five minutes later? Well, here’s the first bit of good news. In the words of the Jess Glynne song, you can stop being so hard on yourself because it’s actually not your own fault that you “comfort eat.”
No matter what your ex might have tried to make you believe about yourself, you are not weak-willed and worthless. You are simply responding to your subconscious mind.
You see, we are actually programmed to behave this way from an early age. As tiny babies, the first thing our mums used to do for us when we showed any sign of being upset was to either shove a boob or a bottle in our mouths, both laden with sweet comforting milk. As we grew a little older, if we fell over and bumped ourselves or got upset about something, chances are we were again pacified with a Farley’s rusk or a sweet treat of some kind. And on it continued, the rusk was replaced with biscuits or sweets but the association was the same. Misery, pain and distress was almost always soothed with sugar.
Is it really any surprise, then, that when someone upsets you, stresses you, hurts you in any way the first thing you want to do is eat something sweet to comfort yourself. It’s actually hard-wired into your brain because you’ve been doing it from your earliest memory.
The second bit of good news is that this may be the way our brains are programmed to react, but we can change that. We can upgrade and re-boot our mental hard drive. Even though it’s still our instinct to reach for the wrong foods when we’re upset, we now know that it doesn’t help long term.
Think about it, logically. The things that upset us as grown-ups are almost certainly more profound than the things that upset us as children. Therefore, common sense now tells us that eating a packet of chocolate hobnobs because we’ve had a massive stand-up row with the ex won’t change the situation or resolve it. All it does is provide a momentary distraction and a brief hit of happiness hormones dopamine and serotonin (Some carbs help us produce them) . But in the longterm, we’ve added to our problems because we now have to contend with the added burden of guilt and self-blame.
And if you’ve just come from a relationship which drained you of your self-esteem, this is the last thing you need.
Okay, so now that we’re armed with this revelation, how can we take action on it?
Next time, you’re fed up, miserable, annoyed or stressed
here’s three things you can do instead of eating crap.
1/ Stop. Be present in the moment and be aware of your behaviour. Think about why you want sugar. Think about what you’ve learned from this post. It’s just your subconscious mind taking over and reminding you that this is how you get comfort, how you’ve always been comforted.
2/ Wait. If, after a conversation with your divorce lawyer, you’re gripped by the urge to run to the kitchen, the office treat tin or the local shop for something to distract you from your angst, reach for your mobile phone instead. Set an alarm for 10 minutes, five minutes or two minutes. Whatever you can muster. Remember, this is a re-training exercise. While you wait, mentally-engage in a conversation with yourself. Remind yourself that sugar is not actually going to make the problem, go away. It’s just going to provide a temporary distraction, a habit formed in childhood and you’re going to feel worse afterwards.
3/ Breathe. Distract yourself with something else that’s going to make you feel good, give you that dopamine that you’re craving. Look at a funny animal video on youtube. Play your fave song. Give yourself a little hug, literally. Cross your arms over your body and rub your hands up and down your arms in a comforting gesture. Eventually, the almost-irresistible, compelling urge for sugar will subside. And the more you practice overcoming it and programming your brain, the faster that will be. And when you master this, you’ll not only resist the sugar, but you’ll avoid being sucked into that vortex of negativity and guilt that comes along with that behaviour.
Remember, knowledge is power. When you know why you do something, you can change it. And every time you make a little change, you get a whole lot stronger.
PART TWO: Five healthy foods that will make you feel happy!