What can we do about comfort eating?

How we think about food and respond to hunger and cravings affects our diet and overall health. As babies we eat intuitively but years of advertising, imposed meal times, food-based celebrations, comfort eating and dieting means many of us have completely lost touch with our real hunger and satiety signals. Experts have identified 8 different types of hunger; including physical, emotional, nutritional, hormonal, contingency, taste, learned and associated. Confusing them can lead to overeating and weight gain. Learning to differentiate between hunger types takes insight, time and effort, but can help combat overeating.  

Comfort eating, sometimes referred to as emotional hunger, is sudden and urgent; one minute you’re fine, the next minute you’re starving. It’s not associated with stomach emptiness and can often be hard to satisfy, even with large amounts of food. This type of hunger is associated with the need for comfort. It’s usually specific, only one type of food, e.g. only chocolate, biscuits, bread or milk products will do. Emotional hunger is often accompanied by an unpleasant emotion or occurs in conjunction with an upsetting situation. Absent minded, automatic eating and feeling guilty afterwards is almost always the result of emotional hunger.

We’ve grown up associating food with comfort and happiness and expecting instant gratification, so it makes sense that we use food to soothe us instead of dealing with our emotions. Self-medicating with sugar and comfort foods works in the short term, but rarely solves the problem and more often than not we end up feeling worse as we gain weight and feel depressed. Learning to differentiate between hunger types takes insight, time and effort, but can help combat overeating.  Next time you feel hungry, take a few moments to ask yourself what kind of ‘hungry’ you are. Shani Shaker: Health, Beauty & Nutrition Therapist

Shani Shaker BA (hons), dipION, mBANT, CNHC, is a registered nutritional therapist with a focus on regenerative and functional nutrition. Contact [email protected] 

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