comfort eating

Comfort Eating

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Comfort Eating

A brief look at what comfort eating is and how you can manage it

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.


Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com


Binge Eating

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Binge Eating

A closer look at what binge eating is and tips for managing it

What is Binge Eating?

Most people overeat every now and then and it is common to occasionally feel as though you have eaten too much. However, regularly consuming large amounts of food when you are not feeling hungry, usually to the point of feeling too full, and at a much faster rate than usual is known as binge eating. Binge eating is similar to bulimia except that the person does not get rid of the food after eating.

Some of the characteristics of binge eating include:

  • Feeling that eating is out of control

  • Eating what most people would consider to be a large amount of food

  • Eating to the point of feeling uncomfortable

  • Eating large amounts of food, even when you are not really hungry

  • Being secretive about what is eaten and when

  • Being embarrassed by the amount of food eaten

  • Feeling disgusted, depressed or guilty about overeating

If you think one or a number of these characteristics describe your eating habits, you may want to speak to a medical doctor, a nutritionist, dietitian, psychologist, counselor or other mental health professional.

Causes of binge eating

No one knows for sure what causes binge eating. A number of different factors are thought to contribute to the problem. These include physiological factors (such as our brain chemistry), social and cultural factors (including the thin body ideal or previous trauma), dieting, and emotions such as anger, boredom, depression and feeling worried or stressed. People often overeat as a way to make themselves feel better or to distract themselves from their problems.

Dieting may aggravate binge eating. Dieting involves setting rules about what to eat and when to eat. If those rules are occasionally broken, for example, by eating a food you are not allowed or eating more than you should, some people think that their diet is ruined. As a consequence, they eat all they want and plan to start their diet again the next day.

Effects of binge eating

There are a number of physical and emotional effects of binge eating. Some of these include:

  • Not getting enough vitamins and other nutrients. Often the food that is eaten during a binge is high in fat and sugar and low in important nutrients. This may lead to other health difficulties.

  • Depression may occur as binging often increases feelings of guilt, anger, and sadness.

It is not uncommon for people who have a problem with binge eating to be overweight or obese, although it is also possible for people to be within their healthy weight range.

Being obese may contribute to the onset of certain chronic health problems such diabetes, gallbladder disease, heart disease, cancer, and bone and joint problems.

Suggestions for getting help

The reasons for binging are complicated and it may be difficult to manage your binging on your own. Managing your eating habits may include speaking to a professional. It may be helpful for you to talk with a medical doctor, dietitian, nutritionist or mental health professional. They should be able to help you work out the best way to manage your binging. There are a number of options for doing this and by talking it through you can find the best one for you. There are also things you can do to help yourself get your eating under control.

Some suggestions include:

Eating regularly. It may be helpful to eat small meals regularly so that you are giving your body enough nutrients throughout the day. It’s also important to start developing a routine, so your body can intuit when it’s time to eat. Having a structural eating plan is key to avoiding binging.

Avoid skipping meals. If you can, try to avoid missing meals. Skipping a meal may make you hungry later on in the day which could result in binge eating.

Pay attention to your feelings. Often times, binge eating has a psychological component to it. It’s important to pay close attention to the feelings you have when you’re triggered and considering binging. This will give you a starting point of understanding the tie between eating and your emotions.

Eating a balanced diet. If possible, avoid going on diets which suggest that you leave out certain foods or only eat at certain times of the day. When you deny yourself food, you’re more likely to restart the cycle of restricting, binging, and feeling guilty. If you’re having strong cravings for triggering foods, plan to enjoy that food at a later date in the week when you’re not feeling so impulsive. Also, having good eating habits can promote good health, a better sense of how full you are, and can reduce your risk for chronic diseases.

Have a distraction. Having something else you can do when you feel like binging may also be helpful. This may be going for a walk, hanging out with friends, reading or listening to music. Check out our Developing Coping Strategies article for more suggestions.

Move your body! Putting your body in motion everyday can be helpful. If you haven’t exercised before, it may be a good idea to talk with your medical doctor about the type of exercise that would be suitable for you. Exercise doesn’t have to mean just going to the gym for a run on the treadmill or lifting weights. Find a way to move your body in a way you enjoy. Perhaps that means going on a hike with friends, dancing your heart out in your room, riding your bike around town, or taking your dog for a walk.

In your journey of recovery, it’s important to become in tune with your body and the signals it gives. Notice how you’re feeling when you eat, how you feel when you move your body, and how you feel when caring for yourself in other ways. Your self-care routine (which can be as simple as showering and getting enough sleep) will help you grow more in tune with your needs and what makes you feel like the best version of yourself!

 

For more information:

 

Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com