Are you a comfort eater? Eating more than normal at the moment?
During this uncertainty of the corona virus, there are significant stressors in our lives, so many people turn to food to help them feel better.
When cortisol is higher we will look for energy boosting foods, but also we tend to crave foods that are higher in sugar and fats.
There’s actually a physiological reward for eating snack foods which makes us seek it out.
Dopamine is released when we eat foods with high fat and sugar combinations which gives us a ‘hit’ which can feel soothing, or comforting.
You may also eat to stop feeling certain emotions, like pain or anger, to push them down.
Sometimes it’s out of boredom (and let’s face it we’re all stuck at home a lot more than normal at the moment).
Let’s take a look at a few tips for support healthy eating habits.
Do you require more of certain nutrients?
If you are prone to comfort eating or over eating certain things, just think about whether you’re nourishing yourself through your main meals.
Sometimes when we’re craving food from a nutritional perspective, it is to make up for things that were missing from our diet.
- Aiming to get a broad and balanced diet as much as possible, and trying to get your 5 a day, will help.
- Focus on sufficient protein.
- Eat complex carbohydrates to support your energy.
These things are really important as a baseline before you start thinking ‘I shouldn’t be craving this’. Sometimes it’s your body telling you that you need certain foods. For example,
- Craving cheese may mean you need more healthy fats in your diet
- Craving salt can increase due to our stress response
- Dreaming of carbs all day may indicate you’re tired and need an energy boost
Comfort eating – Portion control
So if you’re someone who feels like a once you’ve opened a packet of biscuits you just have to eat them all, then you could try to portion up your biscuits into smaller packages.
Try to put them into little different containers or plastic bags. Just make sure that you’ve only got a small portion available to eat rather than thinking you’re going to have to eat the whole packet.
Sometimes people like to buy little mini (fun size) packets of things. (This option isn’t so good for the environment due to additional waste in terms of packaging, but it can be helpful if you find it hard to put themselves out of sight, out of mind.)
The other thing to do would be just to not buy foods you can’t resist. If you feel like you can’t stop eating the biscuits is just don’t buy the biscuits, next time you go shopping, you don’t have to have those foods in your life.
Don’t waste food into yourself
Maybe you clear up the leftovers and end up eating more than you feel that you need to avoid throwing away food into the bin.
If you’re eating food you don’t need it, then you’re kind of treating yourself like a bin.
So if you’re eating like a whole extra portion of cake before it goes off because otherwise it will be thrown out, or if you’re finishing up all the kids leftovers, even though you’re planning to eat later you’ll be eating a lot more than you wanted to.
You’re not a rubbish bin.
Whilst no one wants to waste food, if you don’t need it, it’s still wasting it by putting in you.
You can try putting leftovers into a container in the fridge to save for tomorrow.
Managing your appetite
When we get to the stage of being over hungry we can easily overeat at mealtimes.
Don’t allow yourself to get starving before meals.
To get the most enjoyment from our meals it’s ideal if we are a little bit hungry before eating. When we have mild hunger we will enjoy plainer tasting foods like vegetables.
Snack foods that have the perfect combination of fats, sugar and salt are created to make us want more, even when we’re not hungry.
Keep a food diary – comfort eating patterns
Writing down what you eat, and how you’re feeling can start to highlight any patterns.
For some people that can help to have a written record of what’s gone on in a week. Maybe you eat more when you’re feeling sad, stressed or angry.
I’m not to saying that you shouldn’t eat when you’re feeling like that, but if you have a habit of over eating you may want to look at how and when that’s occurring.
Emotional hunger for food won’t be solved by eating, it’s more about identifying what you need to address in your feelings, thoughts and worries.
A food diary can help you identify patterns of when you’re hungry, and when you’re eating for emotional reasons.
Are you thirsty?
Sometimes we pick at food and feel empty when we’re actually thirsty. So ensure you’re getting 8 glasses of water (around 2 litres) a day to stay hydrated.
Take a 5 min break
Comfort eating can be mindless or eating without thinking. If you can take a break between wanting a food and eating it then you may feel that the urge passes.
Use the pause to consider your emotional state, are you hungry, or are you trying to resolve a feeling that’s uncomfortable.
Have you found any changes in the way you manage food and your emotions?
Hi I'm Anna Mapson, registered Nutritionist (mBANT, CNHC). I specialise in all things ‘digestive health’ and I help people with their IBS symptoms.
I can help you to:
- track your symptoms in a really simple but meaningful way to understand them better
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To find more about out how I work and how I’ve helped people just like you, see my IBS Diet support page