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3 Steps to Overcoming Comfort Eating and Losing Weight (Article)

By February 21, 2015No Comments

how to stop emotional eating

Learning about nutrition is really important if you want to lose weight, but knowing what’s healthy and what isn’t doesn’t tend to be the biggest problem for most people. Most know how to eat a lot healthier than they actually do, but for some reason can’t seem to do it!

Another problem a lot of people face is eating when they’re not hungry, or eating beyond what they need. Every time this happens you stand to add to your fat reserves.

Something is going on here. What is stopping people making healthier choices and often having them eating when they don’t need food, or eating too much?

It is comfort and emotional eating.

Comfort Eating is Relatively New

Our ancestors ate when they could, and they ate pretty much whatever was available.

Today we have food available the whole time, and we have massive choice too. As a result people now eat for many different reasons, and genuine physical hunger might not be at the top of their list every time.

What Causes Comfort Eating?

Everything you eat starts with a decision. This could be because you are genuinely hungry and your body needs food. But this isn’t the case when you meet a friend, intending to have just a coffee (because you’re not hungry), and end up sitting there eating a big piece of cake too.

Decisions about food are often dictated by a feeling or emotion, but this isn’t always consciously recognised.

Emotions, such as stress, sadness and boredom, can have enormous power to direct your eating decisions. They are often in direct conflict with what you really want.

Comfort eating can result from a lack of a particular skill that helps a person cope with their feelings. Because these feelings aren’t dealt with well, they are numbed out instead with ‘comfort food’. Comfort food is nearly always food that is unhealthy and fattening. You don’t tend to have a blow-out on a bag of apples.

3 Steps to Overcoming Comfort Eating

  1. Pause when you feel the urge to eat

Step one is about stepping back for a moment when you feel the urge to eat.

What’s going on with you? Are you responding to a hungry feeling that has been gradually building up? If so this is a cue to eat, this is genuine physical hunger.

Or have you very suddenly become hungry? If so you need to look a bit deeper because chances are your emotions are at play here. How are you feeling? Has something just happened to stress you out, or upset you? Are you tempted to eat because you’re bored?

Maybe you don’t even feel hungry at all.

  1. Make a conscious decision

Step two is about giving yourself a chance to see if eating is the right thing to do right now.

Whereas before you may have eaten on autopilot, now you have stepped back and paused. This gives you a chance to make a decision – one that you’re going to think about, rather than one that you don’t. This puts the power back in your hands.

Are you going to eat, if so what exactly? Or are you going to do something else instead of eating?

  1. Have a plan

Step three is having a pre-thought out plan to use, for those times you know your emotions can get the better of you.

You might know that getting stressed gets you heading straight for the fridge. When you get stressed now you’ve taught yourself to:

  • step back (step one) for a moment
  • check in with yourself (step two), what’s going on inside?

But you’re still stressed and need to eat! This is where having a Plan B is essential.

If you have nothing up your sleeve you’ll revert to your default – emptying the fridge. Think ahead – what can you do differently? A person I know goes out for a quick walk to calm down (keeping her away from the fridge), and by the time she gets back the worst of her stress (and urge to eat) has passed.

Comfort and emotional eating often feel out of a person’s control, but when you step back and break it down it’s possible to gain power over this. Like any new skill this is going to take practice, especially at first. But it can be learned and mastered, leaving you lighter and enjoying your food.

Dr Julie Coffey is a family doctor in the UK with a huge interest in healing the body naturally, and weight loss. She is the author of ‘Living the Slim Life’ and creator of the online weight loss program ‘Uber Slim’. Learn more about her here:


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