Do you find comfort in food?
When I say “comfort food” what images come up for you?
Roasted veggies? A spinach salad? How about water with fresh limes?
NO??? Well, that was a joke really. When we turn to food for comfort it is usually not something we think of as healthy food. Starchy food like mashed potatoes can do the trick. Anyone find warm chocolate chip cookies with milk a great substitute for a big hug? How about hot food like baked potato soup or piping hot French fries. Sound familiar?
I help people who want to take back control over their eating and food choices.
Emotions are often a trigger to turn to food.
I was thinking…what emotions would make someone feel like they need to be comforted? Here’s what I came up with:
For me, needing to be comforted means I need someone who cares and is supportive in a way that makes me feel good. I need someone who understands (or fakes it) and validates how I am feeling.
I need someone to say “It’s going to be OK.”
I may need a hug. I need to feel like I am not going through this alone. I need connection.
If you eat for comfort, start by asking yourself the question:
“What does being comforted look like to me?”
What do you really need in that moment? I can assure you the answer is not warm chocolate chip cookies.
When you answer those questions it can be pretty apparent why you turn to food for comfort. Meeting those needs you just identified often means interaction with someone else. This makes you vulnerable. You may be scared to ask for someone to listen.
You may be scared that they will not respond how you need them to and you’ll just be more upset.
You may not even know how to express your needs because you are used to bottling them up.
If you have read many of my blogs or seen my videos on YouTube, you know that I am a big believer that our relationship with food started in childhood. Comfort food eating is no different.
Think back to when you were a kid. Let’s say you let it be known that you’d like to go to the middle school dance with Jack. Then you hear through the rumor mill that Jack does not like you for more than a friend. He asks one of your good friends to the dance. You feel embarrassed, disappointed, sad, upset, rejected and hurt. At dinner that night you let your feelings be reflected in your mood. Mom asks what is wrong and you tell her. How does she respond?
She tells you that he doesn’t deserve you anyway and someone else will ask you to the dance.
She ignores you – she’s too busy to really pay attention.
She tells you pray about it and changes the subject.
She tells you that you’ve got a lot more heartbreak coming your way so you may as well get used to it.
She says “you think you have problems?” and then tells you about her day and her problems making it clear that her problems are more important than yours.
She says “Here’s some ice cream. This will make you feel better.”
Get it?? If you expressed a need for comfort when you were young and didn’t get it, you grow up to be an adult who doesn’t know how to be comforted.
You don’t know how to ask for support. You’ve learned it does not work. Or you may know how but it feels unsafe. Even worse, if your caregiver gave you food to comfort you OF COURSE you are going to grow up with that habit engrained.
If this young middle school girl found comfort that night in an extra helping of mashed potatoes who could blame her? The sad thing is that this happens on auto-pilot. We don’t think thoughts like
“Well I guess if mom won’t be supportive I’ll eat more mashed potatoes and find some comfort there.”
It just happens.
Some people may seek comfort in other ways. My clients seek it in food.
Why is food such a popular substitute for comfort?
You don’t have to depend on anyone else.
As a kid, it’s accessible. Usually free right there in your own kitchen.
It’s socially acceptable. Everyone eats. All day, every day. You won’t get in trouble for it.
It’s a quick fix.
You don’t have to be vulnerable with anyone else.
Food temporarily distracts you from that negative feeling.
While you are chewing, it does make you feel better and give you joy.
Food can evoke warm memories that feel comforting while you eat.
If you turn to food for comfort, you likely eat due to other emotional triggers. Over time, this impacts your mental health: feeling like you have no self-discipline, hating your thighs, and/or decreasing your confidence. It also impacts your physical health: obesity, putting you at risk for diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea, etc.
As with all emotional eating, the cure is to
First identify the need to find comfort in food BEFORE you take the first bite.
Pause and identify what it is you really need. The answer is not found in food.
Now decide how you can get those needs met.
Does it involve someone else?
Can you comfort yourself?
This is something you must experiment with and discover for yourself. If you are scared to express your needs to someone else, focus on the safe relationships you already have. Where is a safe place for you? This would be a place you know you can go and get those needs met. If you cannot think of anyone, then that is where your journey begins. Start building those relationships. Start repairing the relationships you find important.
If you want to explore your relationship with food in more detail I want to invite you to check out my online course and group coaching program called Feelings and Fries. I’m linking here to all the details. If this sounds like something you would be interested in, book a call here and let’s talk.
Thank you for reading and supporting me!
You got this! One day at a time.
If you want to see the 11 minute YouTube video that accompanies this blog, click here.
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