What you need to know:
- Do you eat to feel better or relieve stress? These tips can help you stop emotional and stress eating, fight cravings, and find more satisfying ways to feed your feelings
Comfort eating is a habit practised as a coping mechanism, rather than from hunger, often without taking precautions about the dietary elements of the food ingested. Most times, the food that seems to appease our emotions is rich in fat, sugar and calories, and many have reported having fallen victim to the habit only once they started to recognise changes in their weight and blood pressure. What triggers comfort eating?
The habit of comfort eating can be sparked by emotions, good or bad, but stress stands out as a major trigger. Other circumstances include sadness, anxiety, celebration, boredom or loneliness.
A study published in the Pub Med Central Journal; Prevalence of Emotional Eating in Groups of Students with Varied Diets and Physical Activity in Poland, suggests that there is a relationship between one’s lifestyle and the occurrence of emotional eating. Individuals who experience high levels of stress, and low physical activity rates among other things, are more likely to develop emotional eating.
Christine Nakimera has been consistently exercising in the morning since 2017. She confesses the routine has dramatically helped her go through her days without the need to eat unhealthy foods despite the challenge of easy access to fast foods which are a call away from both her home and workplace. Staying physically active has helped her control the urge to eat out of emotion.
Need for therapy
Comfort eating is a result of an underlying condition and to address it, a therapist would have to perform a thorough check of all the factors that could lead someone to being in that state, according to Natasha Chikalipa Bwanga, a mental health advocate.
“Over time, stress eating could overshadow whatever is leading one to have emotional eating challenges. If they have been depressed for some time and resort to emotional eating, they will have to deal with issues such as hypertension, and obesity, and this is what they will likely address. However, if the root cause is not addressed, one will always fall back,” she says.
She suggests therapy as a strategy to help one identify the root cause of their comfort eating. “If it is childhood trauma, go to a trauma psychiatrist. Inner childhood healing can be performed as the therapist helps one go back in time to heal that ‘child’,” advises Bwanga.
Emotional awareness is a necessary part of beginning to resolve the habit of comfort eating as it promotes mindful eating, through controlling the number of portions one eats and being mindful of the dietary components of the food.
Mindful eating is knowing the difference between real hunger and that which drives one to eat out of emotion. Safaa Garelnabi (MSc. Nutrition for Global Health- London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) gives advice on how to tell real hunger from hunger that develops out of emotion: “The hunger that makes one resort to comfort-eating arises almost suddenly and can be triggered by emotions such as sadness or anxiety, making one turn to food for comfort. What is eaten in this state may not promise actual satisfaction or fullness.
Real hunger, however, starts gradually as one starts to feel lightheaded or their stomach may start to growl. One may in fact not need something sweet to make them feel better, but they will go for food that satisfies or gets them full. Being aware of this distinction is important in making a mindful eating choice,” she says.
KEEPING IN CHECK WITH A FOOD CHOICE
Safaa Garelnabi (MSc. Nutrition for Global Health- London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine), recommends the consumption of snacks that are a combination of fibre and protein such as yoghurt and nuts as they can help reduce one’s craving for unhealthy fatty foods.
“Legumes are also healthy as they are rich in fibre and give one a feeling of fullness. Avocados are healthy fat while white lean-protein foods such as fish and chicken are healthy choices and can help one counter the urge to eat out of emotion. One can also keep a food diary if they are blind to their triggers,” she adds.