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How to Keep Comfort Eating under Control

Sandra Prior
Jul 14, 2008
We've been fed a lot of research in recent years showing that we eat for all sorts of bad reasons - from boredom, depression and loneliness to anything we consider a celebration. The only good reason to eat, is feeling hungry. However, nutrition experts are acknowledging that emotional eating isn't all that bad. To crave comforting foods when we have negative feelings can help us cope.

It is the norm in our society to mark special occasions with food. Few of us have ever had a slice of cake at a colleague's birthday party because we needed the nourishment. You can give yourself permission to eat just because you're sad or happy, or because it feels good, but you need to do it with restraint.

You don't have to deny yourself comfort food, as long as you don't overindulge. It's easier to exercise this kind of moderation if you are aware of what you're doing and why.

Don't Crumble

If you use food to cheer yourself up, be aware that's what you're doing. Treating yourself to a few chocolate cookies with your coffee after a tough meeting is fine if you realize that it is in fact a treat - and so you can stop before you've eaten so many you feel utterly miserable again.

Unless it's controlled, eating as a way of rewarding yourself quickly becomes a way of punishment yourself - adding self disgust, weight issues and a bloated stomach to the worries you were trying to alleviate. Identifying the underlying emotion can also help by giving you ideas for alternative coping tactics. Do you reach for those chocolate biscuits when you're bored? Lonely? Anxious? Keep a record of the times you eat for comfort and your feelings at the time. Once you uncover your eating patterns, you can control them by finding constructive ways to deal with your problems, such as talking about them. Visit dietitians or psychologists if you need help with the process.

What's Really on your Plate?

Psychologists say emotional eaters often chide themselves for lacking willpower when what they really lack is self awareness. Getting to know what your emotional eating triggers are will help you see that it's more than the sight of a delicious cream cake that weakens your healthy eating resolve. Maybe it's really depression - and dealing with that will increase your chances of sticking to a good diet.

There's a physical reaction, too, that gives those cream cakes a hold over you. When someone is feeling bad for whatever reason, the body reacts by trying to produce more serotonin - the brain's natural feel good hormone. Because carbohydrates increase the level of serotonin, your body craves them as a short cut to restoring your emotional equilibrium.

Hidden Ingredients

Emotional eating habits can usually be traced back to childhood. Parents often use food or sweets as rewards, which conditions people into thinking of them as nurturing, comforting and pleasurable. Children are often given treats to help them get through something unpleasant. Knowing what you're really looking for may stop you expecting it from food.
About the Author
Sandra Prior runs her own bodybuilding website at http://bodybuild.rr.nu.
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