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Overcoming Comfort Eating

By Matt O'Neill, MSc(Nut&Diet), APD

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Comfort eating is when you eat in response to emotions to make yourself feel better. It's an all-too-common challenge, but when overcome can liberate you from excess calories and guilt. This article will help you get better at identifying and dealing positively with comfort eating.


Here are 6 reasons why you might be turning to food for comfort:

1. You eat when you are stressed - Stress triggers different coping mechanisms and for some people it's food. The stress hormone `cortisol' drives cravings and eating releases feel-good brain chemicals.

2. You eat to relieve boredom - When you've got nothing much to do, you can find yourself at the fridge. Seeking, preparing and eating food provides an activity which helps pass the time.

3. You eat for emotional comfort - You may be emotionally dependent on food to make you feel happy, particularly when you are feeling down. Eating keeps you pre-occupied in the moment. But, it can also mask negative feelings that can be more effectively managed without food.

4. You eat to celebrate - When something in your life goes well, e.g. a job promotion or a deal, it always involves a big food celebration. Just as you overeat during the lows, you also overeat during the highs. There doesn't tend to be much middle ground.

5. You eat because it feels good - Over time, you may have become addicted to the feeling of fullness in your tummy. You now continue to eat simply because it's there, in front of you or can't resist the temptation.

6. You eat and then argue with yourself - After making a bad food choice, you tend to chastise yourself, then to feel better you eat again or break your diet, causing a vicious cycle.

The cycle of comfort eating can be broken! On the next page I have some positive ideas for reducing comfort eating, so you can feel more in control, reduce dietary detours and experience better results.


Comfort eating has many causes, so the solutions are varied. Here are six strategies below to put into place to help overcome comfort eating:

1. Eat nutrient-rich - Reduce your susceptibility to emotional eating triggers by nourishing yourself with the correct balance of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. This helps re-balance your body chemistry.

2. Eat emotionally aware - To help identify specific emotional eating triggers, log your feelings around food. A journal is ideal. Or simply ask yourself before you eat, “What am I feeling now? Will food truly make me feel better? Is there anything other than food that will make me feel better right now? You won't always have the answers, but it's a start.

3. Eat in sync with hunger - Before you mindlessly eat, pause to check you are biologically hungry and not just overeating out of habit or for reward. Listen to your stomach more and be mindful as you eat.

4. Moderate your mood - Force yourself to take time out to relax if you are stressed, add tasks to your schedule if you get bored and plan non-food rewards when you have a win. Managing moods without food will reduce the hold food has on you.

5. Makeover your comfort food - If, at first you can't stop automatic comfort eating, decide to eat something better when you get cravings. For example, slowly eat a bowl of delicious berries instead of indulging in high-calorie confectionary. Every time you make the switch, it gets easier.

6. Move forward with support - Sometimes, the reasons for comfort eating can be complex and confusing. Rather than battle alone, speak to someone you can open up to or get counselling support. Breaking free from comfort eating with the right help may be the breakthrough you need.

Apply these strategies and you'll experience a feeling knowing you are building a healthy relationship with food that also delivers results.



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