There are many reasons that we eat and a big part of losing weight is getting to the bottom of them and realising which are most affecting you. Many of us eat for instance simply because we’re hungry, in which case you can looking into staggering meals or eating bigger breakfasts rich in complex carbs. For others eating can be a result of boredom believe it or not, and we can end up eating just because we need something to do – the devil makes work for idle thumbs.
One of the most common reasons for eating though is that we want comfort, and ’emotional eating’ is a problem that many people face when they’re trying to shed weight. When we feel low or depressed often we feel the same way we do when we have low blood sugar and this may result in shaking and lethargy. This can then cause us to eat in order to comfort ourselves – and the dopamine release we get from eating can help to pick us up and feel better. This can result in a vicious circle – you feel low because you’re overweight and this then causes you to eat more and to gain yet more weight.
So if you suspect that comfort eating might be at work and causing you to gain unwanted weight, what can you do? Here we will look at some of the best ways to combat the problem.
The Root of Your Stress
The first and most obvious way to address comfort eating is to try and get to the bottom of why you need the comfort in the first place. If you need to eat to feel happy, then it may be that something in your life has left you feeling stressed on a regular basis. This might not be so easy to solve, but it’s advisable to do your best to find a solution as it will probably come out in other ways too. Find ways to make your life easier – perhaps by looking for different work, perhaps by dropping one of your non-essential commitments (like that karate class) or perhaps by changing your surroundings (being unhappy in your home can cause a lot of stress). This way you may find that you start coming home with more energy and feeling less stress so it will be easier to resist reaching for the fridge. If you struggle to find what the root cause of your unhappiness is, then you should consider speaking with a therapist or counsellor who can help you to work through your problems and uncover things you might not have been aware of in your psyche.
It may be that you actually need those sweet things and that you’re feeling low because you’re craving carbs. In this case you need to make sure you switch to a diet that is higher in natural and complex carbs so that you have less of a deficit. This means eating a big breakfast filled with slow-release carbs like bread and wheat cereal, it means eating at evenly spaced intervals throughout the day, and it means eating lots of fruit. If you’ve eaten a whole load of fruit at work then you’ll find you’ve had enough ‘sweet’ for one day and that you crave something a little less sugary next. You can also reduce that sweet tooth by forcing yourself to enjoy more savoury and more bland tastes – taking the sugar (and sweetener) out of your tea should be step one.
It may also be that you are not getting enough of something else in your diet whether it’s vitamins and minerals or essential fats. Our body is designed to survive on around 9 portions of fruit or more a day (the government says 7 as a compromise, but actually it’s 9) and so there’s a good chance you won’t be getting enough vitamins. You may then find that you start to crave sweet things because your body wants an apple, but that you then interpret this as wanting chocolate (there were no unhealthy sweet foods available when we evolved in the wild). Adding a vitamin tablet to your diet may help you to feel more healthy and energetic and prevent you from craving other sweet snacks.
While this won’t be addressing the underlying causes for your eating, a more immediate solution might be to look at alternative ways you could comfort yourself. For instance this might mean eating something that won’t result in weight gain. Bananas are a great pick-me-up because they contain a lot of natural sugar and encourage the production of dopamine which is a ‘feel good’ hormone. Likewise you might also find comfort in a yogurt, a nice warm cup of tea, a bowl of cereal or something else gentle, sweet but healthy.
Alternatively you can also look at alternative ways to treat yourself. This can mean hugging your partner (something we all could stand to do more), it could mean taking a nice hot bath or it could mean relaxing under a blanket and watching your favourite TV show. One of the best things you can use to increase your energy and avoid comfort eating is regular exercise, this way you’ll feel more healthy and energetic again, but you’ll also find that exercise causes the release of more feel good hormones, this time in the form of endorphins. Going to bed early can also help you to avoid snacking on chocolate as many of us are more likely to snack when we feel tired and bored in the evenings.
Making the switch to these new comforts won’t be easy at first – after all you are essentially trying to replace an old habit that will have become engrained into you. To encourage the transition then you should try to remove the temptations from your site. That means not stocking any cake or sweets around the house so that yogurt or fruit is your only ‘go to’.