What is comfort eating?
It is not uncommon for people to eat when they feel sad, angry, hopeless, bored or lonely. Eating may even make you feel better in the short term. Some foods, such as chocolate, affect the chemicals in the brain that regulate your mood. For that reason, you often feel better right after you have eaten chocolate but these feelings usually don’t last for very long. Eating as a response to certain emotions, particularly if you are not hungry, is known as comfort eating.
Eating your favorite food occasionally when something upsets you is OK and many people are likely to do this from time to time. Comfort eating may become a problem if you regularly feeling sad, angry, hopeless, bored or lonely and continue to use food to cope with these feelings. If this is the case, it may be a good idea to talk to someone about your feelings and find healthy solutions for managing these emotions. If you are eating when you are not hungry and you feel guilty after eating, it may also be a good idea to talk to someone.
You can contact your medical doctor, dietitian or nutritionist, or psychologist, counselor or other mental health professional for more information. By talking to one of these professionals you should be able to work out some of the reasons why you may be comfort eating and discuss different ways to manage this behavior.
Other Ideas for Managing Your Eating
If you are concerned about overeating in response to certain emotions, here are some recommendations about what you can do in addition to finding a professional you can talk to:
- Be aware. It is helpful to look at your eating patterns and try to understand what is causing you to eat for comfort. Sometimes, when food is readily available or already on the plate, we may not even realize how much or why we’re eating. This is called ‘unconscious eating’. It’s possible you may be eating because you are feeling sad or stressed. If you experience these feelings often, then you may need to find other ways of managing these feelings. Keeping a diary about what you eat and how you feel before and after you eat can help you to see what triggers your eating. Mindfulness exercises may also be beneficial.
- Explore other ways for managing feelings. Comfort eating involves eating to help you deal with your feelings. Try to find other coping strategies to deal with your feelings such as exercising, drawing or writing. Expressing yourself can help you release your emotions in a positive way.
- Make a plan for dealing with boredom. Many people have a tendency to eat when they are bored. If you find yourself doing this regularly, it may be useful to find some other activities to participate in when you are bored. You could call a friend, participate in sports, read a book, or go for a walk.
- Eating healthy food. If you are using food to cope with your feelings, this may be a long-standing pattern and it could take time to adopt other methods to manage your concerns or stress. A change you could make right away is to eat healthy foods rather than those high in fat or sugar.
For more information on health eating habits, check out the nutrition website provided by the US Department of Agriculture.