The ABCs of Comfort Eating
Updated: Feb 6, 2019
My tips on how to control the urge to eat that cake, and not let the urge control you.
We’ve all done it. Eaten something when we were bored, angry, anxious, upset or stressed, or all the above! And sometimes it helps. However, sometimes eating for comfort makes us feel crappy and sluggish, it makes our tummies hurt and sometimes it can make us feel guilty, ugly, and ashamed. And this post looks at how we can change the way we comfort eat.
Before I begin on some tips and tricks in helping us deal with comfort eating there are two things to note:
I am not talking about binge eating as associated with eating disorders. Although binges can be triggered by similar emotions, there is a vast difference in the amount of food that is consumed and the impact that food and eating has on the individual. I can talk about eating disorders in another post, if you guys want, however this post is not it.
As I said, comfort eating can sometimes be great. Sometimes life’s problems can be solved by a piece of cake. And if it makes you feel good in the short and long term, then you eat that piece of cake cause cake is fucking awesome. Eating is something inherently pleasurable and this post is really aimed at those who don’t feel better, or who feel worse after comfort eating and want to change this.
So, what are the ABCs of comfort eating I hear you ask? Well the ABCs is a common technique we use to understand behaviour in psychology. A stands for the Antecedents of a behaviour (or the things that happen before the behaviour), B stands for the Behaviour itself and C stands for the Consequences of the behaviour. So, let’s dive into changing our comfort eating using the ABCs...
A) Noticing the antecedents of your comfort eating
The first step to change your comfort eating is noticing what are the things that are happening before you start eating.
Ask yourself where am I when I comfort eat? What am I doing, what am I feeling, what am I thinking?
For example, you may recognize you often turn to food when its 3PM in the afternoon and you’re bored. Maybe you’ve ended a relationship recently and it’s at 8PM when you’re feeling upset thinking about what’s happened.
The important thing is to recognize what is happening in your environment, what are you feeling, thinking and doing that then leads you to comfort eat. I’d recommend writing what you think of down.
B) The behaviour of comfort eating
Take a moment to check in on yourself as you reach for the food.
Ask yourself “Am I really hungry?”, “Will I enjoy this?”, “Will this make me feel better?”.
Give yourself the time to identify what you really want and need at that time.
C) The consequences of comfort eating
There’s usually some good consequences, even if you recognize some negative ones of comfort eating… because you wouldn’t be doing it otherwise.
But maybe it’s an hour later or later that day or the next, and you feel sluggish, your tummy is bloated and painful, or you realize “FFS I’m still as lonely as I was before I ate those chips!”.
The way to move forward from turning to food, as a source of comfort, is by targeting and changing the antecedents and consequences, and really tuning in to what’s going on for you in the moment that you’re reaching for that food.
For example; (hypothetical) Sally gets home to an empty flat after work and she feels alone, so she starts eating. The way we can help Sally is to find her other things to do to that help her loneliness like eating does. We would get Sally to think of other things that she enjoys doing that could help her stop feeling lonely when she gets home. Maybe Sally could ring her best friend for a chat, she could go for a walk, read a book, or delve into some Netflix. By doing these other things Sally may feel not so lonely and it doesn’t result in her feeling shitty like she does when she comfort eats.
To be like Sally, write a list of things that you enjoy doing or that make you feel better (maybe even things you’ve stopped doing but really enjoyed in the past). Take the time to really understand why you’re reaching for the food when you’re in the moment, and try replacing the food with something off your list and see if you can stick to it. If you find you can’t, try replacing it with something else that makes you feel better – be your own little psychology experiment!
And remember that experiments are just that, tests and trials – they’re not fail safe and its okay to slip up... that's life.
If this has been helpful, or you want more posts like this let me know!
Til the next post,