Tuesday, December 13, 2011

9 Ways to Breaks the Cycle of Comfort Eating

I found this excellent advice over at ivillage.com for people like me who eat for comfort. It's such a good article, I'm reprinting it nearly word for word in its entirety.


Many people turn to food to manage their moods. Unfortunately, what we call “comfort food” is usually loaded with saturated fats and sugary carbohydrates. Eating too much of these feel-good foods can cause weight gain, which in turn makes us feel ashamed of our bodies. These feelings, of course, can have an effect on our moods. It’s a good idea then to talk to other people who are trying to manage their moods and to work toward creating healthier strategies.

 1. Eat Mindfully

The first step toward breaking the food-mood cycle is to take a few days and begin to eat mindfully. In our fast-paced, multitasking culture, we are usually in a rush, with multiple family and job responsibilities. We may eat quickly to manage stress, but we rarely eat mindfully, unless it is a “special” occasion. It only takes a few additional minutes to eat in a more relaxed way. Turn off the TV, put down the laptops and phones, and pay attention to the texture, taste and aroma of your food. Read More: Clean Eating & Mindfulness

2. Don’t Deprive Yourself

Overly restrictive dieting can lead to an all-or-nothing attitude with food, and over time, severe hunger can lead to binge eating. Portion control solves a lot of this. It’s perfectly healthy to eat the food you crave -- if you keep the portion small. You might also spend some time prepping smaller portions of your favorite calorie-laden foods in baggies for you and your family.

( Maura's 2 cents: For Clean Eaters - Reworking favorite foods into Cleaner versions is very satisfying. Knowing that yes - you CAN have pizza { ok, its not Pizza Hut pizza... ) seems to be the little "relief valve" many Clean Eaters find helpful. )

4. Analyze This

If you are like many people, you have a good idea of what your food issues are in general. But if you take a few days to track what you eat and why in a food diary, you will probably understand yourself better. For example, if you are on a severely restrictive diet and skipping breakfast, you’ll realize that your 11:00 a.m. donut binge in the staff lounge is actually a normal response to extreme hunger. Or you might notice that you turn to your good friends Ben and Jerry at night, especially after a loss or disappointment. Read More: Food Journaling

5. Plan Ahead

If you want to change your relationship with food, you’ll need to change your environment. Use your food diary to determine whether you need to clean house. Literally. Packages of cookies, bags of chips and quarts of full-fat ice cream must go if you’ve identified them as unhealthy mood managers. Smaller packaging will help, as will more attractive displays of fruits and vegetables you enjoy. Make it easy on yourself: Cut up celery, carrots and peppers, and keep them toward the front of the fridge, not in the vegetable drawer (which Jerry Seinfeld appropriately refers to as “the Rotter”).Read More: Changing to a Clean Eating Pantry, Sunday: Clean Eating Prep Day - Be Prepared!

6. New Mood-Management Strategy #1: Get Active

Now that you are eliminating food as your mood manager, identify other techniques that work for you. Regular exercise improves mood overall. If you’re feeling sad or anxious, try a short burst of any physical activity, like taking a short walk. Many women climb some stairs to burn calories and release tension. Keep a pair of sneakers at the office so that there are fewer barriers to getting moving at work.

7. New Mood-Management Strategy #2: Change Your Music

Music is one of the most powerful mood changers. In fact, researchers conducting psychological experiments often use mournful music to create sad moods in volunteers. Conversely, you can use your favorite dance music or popular music from your teenage years to boost your mood. Have fun while you create some upbeat playlists. There may well be times when you want to listen to the blues or a violin symphony to fully experience your sadness. But when you want to escape, turn on the cheerful music.

8. New Mood-Management Strategy #3: Make an Acceptance Plan

We sometimes use food because we want to eliminate negative moods quickly, but sometimes it’s better to accept the situation. Whether you’re feeling sadness, anger or anxiety, try to identify the source of your low mood. If it is something you can change, sketch out new solutions. For example, if a co-worker is annoying you, role-play with a friend about how you can be more assertive with the person. If, on the other hand, the situation is something you cannot change at this time, try to accept it. Breathe deeply and often. Take time to relax your muscles, especially your head, shoulder and neck muscles. Visualize a pleasant scene. It’s also a good idea to try to remember the big picture -- your values and goals -- and work on a plan of acceptance, rather than avoidance. You may, for example, have a difficult job, but you and your family need the income.

10. New Mood-Management Strategy #4: Find Your Friends

People with similar problems created the earliest weight-control and other self-help groups because the medical field did not know how to help them. This is still somewhat true in the area of food and mood. You may find some experts to be a bit judgmental or lacking in empathy, but talking to other women (and men) who practice comfort eating can feel like a big support. You will feel connected and understood, and you may be able to share new techniques for mood management.