Who doesn’t resort to comfort eating, at least once in a while? Comfort eating may be the one category of emotional eating that has its own food category (“comfort foods”). Most of us can easily name our favorite go-to comfort treat that evokes the cozy or reassuring experience we sometimes seek.
When life gets hard, or stressful, or exhausting, comfort eating can quickly get out of control, and when you don’t have many reserves left, it can be hard to fight back. Let’s be honest, sometimes it can be hard to even find the motivation to want to try.
Here’s the thing. Taking control of comfort eating doesn’t need to be nearly as hard as so many people make it. Many times, misguided attempts to stop it are actually making the problem worse. There is a better way—and I’m going to tell you what it is.
High-achievers and comfort eating
Struggles with eating to “feel better,” to “numb out” or “escape,” or as a reward after a long, difficult day are emotional eating challenges I hear about a lot. Food is easy. It’s almost always around, eating doesn’t require a big production, and snacking in front of the TV or eating M&Ms at your desk doesn’t usually create more conflict or drama or add to your to-do list. At least, not right away. At certain moments, food may really feel like your friend—your best friend.
If you ask most women what they could do to stop eating too much for comfort, most can easily rattle off, “what I should do.” It’s usually a list that goes something like this:
“I need to just knock if off.”
“If I was serious, I’d make a policy of not eating after 5pm.”
“I should get on the treadmill/elliptical/stationary bike instead.”
“I should just focus and keep working.”
“I have so much to do and I really should use that time to be productive…my closet is a mess. I should be cleaning THAT instead of stuffing my face.”
“If I wasn’t so set on eating, I could get so much DONE!”
Might I add that these are comments from women who were (at the time they made them), still feeling stuck in cycles with their emotional hunger and comfort eating?
How to really take control of comfort eating
The reason all these “shoulds” aren’t working (or don’t work for long), is that there is an incredible mismatch between the desire for comfort that is driving the urge to eat and the solutions that high-achieving busy women tend to come up with.
Repeat after me: You overeat for a reason, and if you don’t approach that reason with respect, it’s going to come back to haunt you.
Here is the almost-always-overlooked solution to comfort eating:
If you are craving comfort and you want to stop using food to achieve it, you are going to have to come up with an alternative that meets you where you are and is comforting. Relying on white knuckles and willpower is not an effective strategy. Neither is adding in another dollop of to-dos or effort.
Expecting more hard work from yourself (“I should just go work out/weed the garden/finish that report”) is not a solution to comfort eating. It’s going to make you hungrier and set your inner rebel on the warpath.
Expecting high energy activities from yourself if you are tired and just want a soft place to land—that’s a mismatch too.
Comfort feels good. It’s usually easy, and probably warm and inviting. It’s kind and soft and reassuring.
If you want to really take control of comfort eating, you are going to need a list of alternatives that are really, truly comforting. They might not feel exactly like nuzzling up to that pint of ice cream, but you want them to feel like they are at least in the same family.
Start now. Brainstorm a list of ten things you can do that are comforting, do-able, and don’t require a lot of effort. THIS is the beginning of your recipe for success. Want a free list of comfort eating alternatives? Click here to download 30 Ways to Soothe Without Food.
Take good care,