The reality is that comfort eating is anything but comfortable. Also referred to as emotional eating, overeating or bingeing, my experience of this started when I was going through an unhappy time in my life. I used work during the day and food in the evenings to occupy myself so that I didn’t have to think about, or deal with, what was going on. The unfortunate thing for me was that once the unhappy times had passed, the habit of comfort eating stayed with me for many years afterwards.

If you have experienced this you will perhaps identify with some of the feelings I associate with comfort eating. For me personally I felt like I was operating on automatic pilot most of the time, not allowing myself to stop and think about what I was doing or why I was doing it. Even walking round the supermarket was like an out of body experience where I didn’t allow myself to think, only to consider what food would be ‘a treat’ for me on that particular day. I would also describe it like a negative voice in my head which took over and told me I was going to do it.

What follows a period of comfort eating is anything but comfortable. I would have feelings of guilt and embarrassment and sometimes feel physically ill and unable to sleep because I had eaten too much food. I also gained quite a lot of weight in a relatively short period of time. This just made me more unhappy and fuelled the cycle I was stuck in. I also became very good at covering my tracks by hiding the evidence of what I had eaten. Let’s face it, none of us want to admit to this or look greedy or gluttonous. In the end, the secrecy and feelings of guilt became exhausting.

Learning to stop using food in this way can be a challenge. For those who have never experienced it it’s easy to say ‘just stop doing it’ but it’s not that straightforward, otherwise we wouldn’t have an obesity problem in their country as people would be able to ‘just stop’. Although learning to stop can be a challenge, I don’t want to imply that it’s too hard and to use that as an excuse. It’s all too easy to think we need someone outside ourselves to solve our problems or ‘fix us’. Getting support is key, but ultimately we are responsible for our own actions and it is our job to find strategies to help us overcome it, rather than expecting someone to do it for us.

Here are four strategies and techniques which have helped me:

  • Planning ahead

    If you buy food in advance for the week and only have healthy foods in the house you won’t have the sort of foods to hand that you are most likely to binge on. This helps to a point, but was difficult for me as I used to walk past a supermarket on my way home from work which was often too tempting to resist.

  • Visualisation

    This might sound a bit ‘alternative’, but stick with me. Before you start to over-indulge, fast forward an hour or two in your mind and imagine how you are going to feel afterwards. Do you still want to do it?

  • Give your ‘voice’ an identity

    Sometimes that negative voice your head can take over and I’ve found that it can help to separate it from yourself. By giving it a name, visualising what he/she looks like and imagining it as another person you start to see it differently and it can be easier to gain back control.

  • Find someone to confide in

    This can really help, provided you find someone who will be non-judgemental and will just listen and support you. I used a coach for this as I found it easier to be completely honest with someone impartial. Finally being able to tell someone about what I was experiencing was a turning point for me and my coach helped me to implement these strategies.

If this is something you are struggling with and are looking for some support (non-judgemental of course) contact me for a no obligation chat.