We have all done it. Bad day. Stressed. Tired.
You promised yourself to be good and resist the chocolate.
But it is 9pm, you are alone and burnt out. So you eat.
You need comfort, and you need it now!
The desire for food is built into our DNA
As infants our first source of soothing is from sweet breast milk. We imprint the comfort of mother with the comfort of food.
As we grow, more associations are made. Conditioned emotions are psychologically linked with particular foods. What do you feel when you hear the word “cake”? We have thousands of these links that weave together our relationship to food as comfort. Habits are created to relieve us from certain feeling states, such as boredom, sadness, anger, joy, loneliness, and fear.
Food is a powerful emotional regulator. It can offer great satisfaction in the right dose. However, more often than not when we begin to depend on food for soothing, a little bit of a good thing turns into our worst nightmare.
The immediate comfort of eating is followed by the backlash of suppressed emotions coupled with remorse and guilt for our behavior. Ongoing abuse of food creates deep shame and self-hate which corrodes self-esteem and affects our intimate relationships.
You can change this. Your eating problems are not about food. They are about your ability to respond to your feelings and offer yourself self-soothing. This can be learned. It just requires your desire, effort, and dedication.
If you remove eating as your primary source of comfort, you must put something in its place. Try these tools to care for yourself.
- Breathe. It may sound simple but it is the most powerful tool you have. Deep breathing is the fastest way to trigger your parasympathetic nervous system and the relaxation response. This happens in a matter of seconds. Inhale and then exhale fully. Repeat 10 times.
- Don’t react immediately. Our tendency when we have big feelings is to freak out and try to rid ourselves of them. Usually this adds more stress to an already upset system. Try sitting calmly and scanning your body. Start with the top of your head. In your mind’s eye visualize and focus on each part of your body. Go slowly, moving downwards until you arrive at your toes.
- Make a list of your favorite joyful activities. Then do one. Go for a walk. Journal. Text someone you love. Plan your dream vacation. Have sex.
- Seek therapy or counseling. Psychotherapy is a safe place to explore the emotions that you have been avoiding with food.
- Be gentle with yourself. You are practicing new behaviors. These take time to form. Be kind to yourself when you make mistakes. Find a friend or a support buddy to cheer you on.
Remember, just by reading this you are choosing a positive action towards changing your behavior. Pat yourself on the back! Your relationship with food, self worth, and comfort are within your power.
About the Author
Maya Johansson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) who specializes in couples counseling and helping those in nontraditional relationships.
According to Maya, “I am not the stereotypical therapist who sits back and nods. I am engaged and curious about you and your process and will find your edge with you in a way that also feels safe and empathetic.”