Comfort food—a phrase we’re all familiar with. We remember Mom baking cookies or Grandma kneading bread while filling a heavy pot with her homemade chicken and dumplings. If something was wrong, a cookie solved the problem. If you fell off your bike, you were bandaged and given a piece of candy. For many of us, that was our reality. Food solved all our problems. Of course, now that we’re older, we know that the food didn’t actually do anything for us. It was a buffer, something to temporarily make us forget our problems.
Food equaled love. At least that’s what we thought. Then, life dealt us other more significant blows. A breakup, job loss, an accident that totaled the car. Food comforted us through those difficult moments too. It had nothing to do with hunger in the physical sense. It was about feeding us emotionally. Those small treats lead us down the path of no return.
Soon, cakes and cookies weren’t enough. We wanted more. How were we going to get through a divorce or financial ruin? This is what’s known in professional circles as societal conditioning. It was a proxy for love or comfort. Food didn’t solve the problems, but it did bring some semblance of joy for a brief moment.
Emotional eating is an issue many people suffer from. We may not even be conscious of it. It becomes a crutch, a bad habit we cling to until we learn how to cope in other ways.
Decades ago, and still in many communities, food was scarce. Our parents and grandparents may have grown up under these conditions. When they had children, the mantra became “Finish your plate,” and we became members of the Clean Plate Club. It’s what we were taught.
When we visit someone, one of the first questions they ask is if we’re hungry or thirsty. We know that saying no is rude, so we go with it. Of course, we’re hungry or thirsty. It’s the polite thing to do. That’s a pattern that begins when we’re young. How do we overcome that habit and find better, healthier outlets?
First, you have to address the underlying issues. The food is not the problem. The problem lies with what’s going on beyond that. Is it a self-esteem issue or do you have a poor body image, or is it something else? If either of these is the case, look at why and speak to a professional about it. There are ways to move beyond those feelings. Learn to become at peace with food. What you need to do is to reset your relationship with binge-eating or, conversely, fasting.
Pay attention to cues. If you’re under a lot of stress, do you reach for a cookie or other treat? What can you do to stop that habit? For some that may mean they stop buying sweets or whatever foods they gravitate to for comfort. Learn how to eat according to your intrinsic hunger cues. Eat only when the hunger sensation strikes or try calorie counting. Find out what’s ideal for your height and weight and what should be normal for you. After you have those numbers, create a plan to help stay within those guidelines.
Become familiar with your eating triggers. If you have to, keep a calendar or diary of what you eat and when. That will go a long way to helping you overcome this bad habit.
By Ava Mallory