What is Comfort Eating?
For many, food is closely associated with emotion.
It’s used to celebrate, to mourn, and to entertain.
As such, more people than ever are being faced with an emotional eating disorder, also known as a comfort eating disorder.
At its core, a comfort eating disorder is a habit where a person turns to food for just that: comfort.
You might eat when you feel happy, sad, lonely, or some other emotion that your body feels the need to supplement with food.
While extremely common, comfort eating has a tremendous potential to negatively impact your health.
Identifying Comfort Eating
Do you find yourself reaching for food when your mood changes?
If you catch yourself regularly heading into the kitchen when you get good news, bad news, or simply find yourself feeling bored, lonely, sad, or even happy, you likely have a comforting eating issue.
Many people get into the habit of comfort eating simply because of how they were raised and because of the norms of our society where food finds its way into just about every event and occasion, usually as an integral part of it.
The Dangers of Comfort Eating
Obviously, overeating is among one of the biggest risks you’ll face if you are a comfort eater.
Some other side effects that can come along with comfort eating habits are severe eating disorders, where you may begin binge eating or going through phases of radical dieting attempting to counteract your emotional overeating.
None of these things are healthy, and a medical professional can assist you in overcoming them.
Another bad thing about comfort eating is that, usually, the “comfort foods” people turn to are far from healthy.
Mainly, they are empty calories and tend to be high in sugar.
Overcoming Comfort Eating
“Intuitive eating” is a practice most healthcare professionals recommend that everyone adapts to.
With intuitive eating, you’ll check in with yourself before taking a bite of anything.
The goal is to only eat when you feel hungry.
Otherwise, you put the food down, drink some water, and busy yourself with something else.
It can be a struggle at first as you break away from your comfort eating habits, but gradually you will find yourself adapting to this new approach.
In a matter of time, your intuitive eating habit will enable you to turn down food when you aren’t hungry and stop eating simply out of boredom or emotion.
This prevents overeating and generally leads to a healthier lifestyle.
Why Do People Comfort Eat?
Comfort eating is often attributed to lack of self-control, however, there are many things that can cause an individual to comfort eat.
The first thing is unawareness.
Being unaware that you have a problem is a big cause of comfort eating.
In other words, you may not be conscious of what you’re eating, why you’re eating, or how much you’re eating.
If you have never taken the time to stop yourself in front of the fridge and ask if you’re really hungry, you likely are unaware of a comfort eating problem.
2) Lack of pleasure
Many people find themselves in a situation where food is one of the few pleasures in their life, so it becomes an easy source of entertainment.
If you have nothing to look forward to tomorrow, you might turn to food to soothe yourself and help overcome boredom.
That, of course, is not the way to handle such feelings, but food is a popular “solution” to this widespread problem.
3) Inability to control your feelings
From a young age, most of us learned to avoid things that make us feel bad, and food is a great distraction when we are faced with negative emotions.
If you are unable to tolerate the inevitable “bad” feelings of life, you might turn to food to try and get them off your mind.
4) Dislike of your own body
A negative self-image can cause a range of bad habits, but emotional eating is certainly near the top of the list.
If you dislike how you look, it can throw you into a downward spiral of negative emotions and multiple aspects of this can lead you to emotional eating.
This is a multi-layered issue and one that must be addressed based on your unique circumstances.
Do let yourself get too hungry? Do you miss a lot of sleep?
There are lifestyle choices that can make you more vulnerable to emotional eating.
If your body is hungry or tired, it will send a powerful signal to the brain that tells it to eat.
It’s much more difficult to fight off cravings and urges when you are hungry or tired already, and it becomes even more difficult to convince yourself to make healthy choices.
This usually leads people to opt for the quickest, tastiest thing within their reach, and that’s rarely the healthiest.
Is Comfort Eating a Sign of Depression?
The short answer: It can be.
Comfort eating is often associated with a person who is depressed, sad, or lonely.
However, comfort eating has causes that actually stretch beyond these negative emotions.
While negative emotions can certainly be a root cause of comfort eating since we are taught from a young age to avoid things that make us feel bad, food can be used as a distraction from a lot of different things.
One prevailing cause of comfort eating is that a person simply lacks other pleasures in their life.
If you find yourself waking up and not having anything to look forward to for the day, you are very susceptible to falling victim to a comfort eating habit.
Food, in this case, is used as a distraction and form of entertainment.
Obviously, that has a lot of downsides, and your health (both mental and physical) is likely to take a toll if you leave this problem unaddressed.
Another thing to consider about comfort eating is that it can occur in completely happy and normal individuals, they just may not recognize it.
Most everyone has walked into the kitchen at some point (probably many times) and grabbed food without really stopping to ask themselves, “Am I really hungry?”
When you find yourself eating even though you aren’t hungry, that is usually the result of comfort eating of some kind.
In other words, you are using the food to fill a void of some sort, whether it’s brief and temporary or something you have experienced for a long time.
As a quick example, you may be waiting for friends to arrive so you head into the kitchen and grab a snack.
Or, you’re waiting for a movie to start so you grab a bowl of popcorn.
Or, you’re up late and can’t sleep so you go and get some cookies from the cabinet.
All of these examples are forms of comfort eating because you are using food to pass time, address boredom, or otherwise entertain yourself and bring a bout of pleasure that naturally comes from indulging in something.
So, to conclude, comfort eating is not always linked to depression, but depression, negative emotions, and poor self-image are things that can factor in to a comfort eating habit.