How to know when to eat comfortably becomes a problem
Many of us have turned to food for comfort during the pandemic, and I’m writing this as someone who sat down to write this article and then went to eat leftover dinner.
We eat comfortably for many reasons, says Tamara Cavenett, Adelaide-based clinical psychologist and president of the Australian Psychological Society.
“There is quite a bit of anxiety during the pandemic, and people are also worried about their finances or feeling the effects of lockdown habits,” she says.
“In these situations, food may actually offer short-term relief from boredom, anxiety, or feelings of uncertainty.”
The foods we can eat at these times – chocolate, for example – can also make us feel good.
“Consumption of certain foods causes an increase in the production of these neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine,” says Tamara.
“Serotonin helps promote the regulation of appetite, sleep and mood, and dopamine is linked to motivation and reward.
When to eat comfortably is ok
Whatever your favorite comfort food, you might be relieved to know that comfort food isn’t necessarily a bad thing, according to Melbourne registered dietitian Heidi Sze.
“We are programmed to seek solace in food and find it pleasurable,” she says.
“Babies… they don’t just feed when they are hungry, they also feed for comfort. And we continue to do so throughout life.
Tamara also agrees that it’s normal for people to eat every now and then, and that we often use food for socializing and celebrating.
When the comfort of eating is a concern
There are times when eating for comfort can be a problem.
Heidi and Tamara both say it’s when comforting yourself with food no longer serves you, or if food is your only coping mechanism for dealing with emotions.
At this point, it can have a negative impact on mental well-being.
“These can be things you would normally do when you’re unhappy, bored, or in need of a pick-me-up, and they’re all really individual choices.”
For some people, that might mean listening to music or watching TV, going for a walk, or calling a friend.
“Being aware of how you are feeling and what you really need right now can help break the routine of foraging for food,” says Tamara.
For others, however, it may be a relief to know that you don’t have to deal with the comfort of eating problem on your own.
“I would recommend seeking help and ideally working with a trauma-informed psychologist or mental health practitioner,” Heidi explains, “because there can be so many different reasons people turn to towards food for comfort. “
A different approach to food
According to Heidi, intuitive eating can be a liberating setting for people who follow a lot of rules when eating, dieting, and feeling guilty about what they eat.
“The goal is to break with diet culture and take care of your body,” she explains.
“It’s about realizing that our bodies are unique and that our needs are constantly changing throughout life from season to season as we go through ups and downs.
“It’s about finding out what feels good in our bodies and giving them a little more kindness.”
This kindness can be as easy as talking to yourself as you would a friend.
Intuitive eating is about knowing the nutritional value of foods, having self-compassion, and not associating guilt with eating.
“For example, in the winter we tend to want to eat larger meals, and that’s to warm up and that makes us feel good,” Heidi explains.
“We shouldn’t feel bad about it.”
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