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A reader emailed me today complaining about her midsection and said she wasn’t proud of the weight she had gained. She had a problem with comfort eating and was looking for any advice I could share.
I gave her my standard response, which is to eat less bread and bread-like foods, as this is generally what people turn to when they’re looking for comfort. It could also be chocolate or potato chips, but the culprit is always the same – carbohydrate-rich foods with lots of sugar.
The reality is that this type of food has addictive qualities because for a short time it will boost serotonin levels (thereby providing a temporary sense of comfort), but just like that warm, relaxing sensation that comes with a glass of wine, the moment will soon pass and all you’re left with is a bunch of calories consumed and a mushy middle.
7 Strategies for Combating Comfort Eating
- The best way to combat comfort eating is to cut out addictive foods as much as possible (ie baked goods). If you can’t let them go, experiment with low carb, sugar-free baking. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a great start. At least you control what goes into your mouth this way. Then slowly ease off on even the low carb treats.
- Add a little more healthy fats in your daily diet (olive oil, unsalted nuts, and seeds, avocado, coconut oil etc). The fats will help with satiety and control hunger.
- Eat more protein. Protein is highly thermogenic, which means it takes the body longer to digest than carbohydrates, giving you a sense of fullness. While you don’t want to go overboard on protein, up to a gram per pounds of body weight can help you manage weight and preserve lean muscle.
- Sleep more. I talk about this so much, I feel like a broken record, but sleep impacts two hunger hormones that can keep you hungry and craving all kinds of comfort food if you don’t get enough z’s. If you’re craving carbs and you always feel hungry, chances are, this is a big reason for it.
- Find other ways to comfort yourself. You’re reaching for food because you want to soothe yourself. Why is that? When you see yourself turning to food to soothe, ask yourself what it is you’re trying to solve. Whatever the source of the stress and anxiety, a bag of Oreos probably won’t fix it.
- Develop self-awareness. Meditation is starting to sound like a main-stream band-aid for everything that ails you, but there’s a good reason for that. Studies show that a regular meditation practice can help control unhealthy eating habits.
- Get help. There’s no shame in therapy. I think we can all agree that having a therapist on speed dial is about as common and needed as having a great hair stylist. It’s just a good thing to do for yourself and if you happen to think you’re above getting professional help, then you’re misinformed. None of us are.
Caren is a certified yoga teacher, fitness instructor and author of The Fit Habit. Here she shares simple, healthy recipes, home workout ideas and practical ways to foster mind + body wellness.