How can I stop comfort eating?
Q. I keep gaining weight because I comfort eat. Recently I didn’t get a job I wanted and, although I wasn’t hungry, started eating chocolate and cakes out of pure despair and frustration. It’s my way of coping with failure and rejection. Can you give me any advice? A. Many overweight and obese people have become that way owing to emotion and stress-related eating. In one study of 337 obese primary care patients aged 18-65, half reported high emotional eating, which is known to affect women more than men.
Anna Storey, an accredited counsellor who offers weight management counselling, says: ‘Our relationship with foodis formed before we can walk or talk. Food is one of our first sources of comfort, so it’s not surprising that we rely on it in times of distress.’
Anna works with clients on resolving emotional blocks or needs that prompt us to turn, as you did, to sugar-laden treats such as chocolate and cake. ‘An emotional event in our lives, if left unprocessed, can lead to comfort eating and therefore weight gain. Start by thinking back to the time and place when you first started eating to comfort yourself – it is often in childhood – and then list your current triggers. How do you feel just before you reach for that chocolate bar? And after? Understanding your feelings will help you to see the real reasons behind your weight gain.’
Letting go of these past and present traumas can, in turn, help you to let go of the urge to eat when you feel rejected and frustrated, so you can develop a more healthy relationship with food and lose your excess weight. You may feel you need the help of a therapist like Anna. The website welldoing.org helps you to find a suitable, qualified and experienced therapist locally.
Meanwhile, there are simple ways to help yourself:
• Eat balanced meals, sitting at a table. Never skip meals. For a sensible eating plan to lose weight and get healthy, I recommend The Louise Parker Method: Lean for Life (Mitchell Beazley, £20)*, which advises a holistic approach.
• When you are tempted to dive into the cake tin – and not stop at one slice – just stand still and slowly count to 10, suggests Natalia Traxel, a doctor and nutritionist (nataliatraxel360.com).
• Ask yourself why you are reaching for food now. Are you really hungry? In which case, eat something wholesome rather than a sugar-laden ‘treat’.
• Or are you feeling tired, lonely, bored, angry or dispirited and in need of comfort and distraction? Salving those feelings could take a different form from food, such as a hug, a phone call with a friend, a walk or doing something creative.
Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT) is a genetic neurological disorder that affects around 23,000 people in the UK but is little known. CMT can cause uncontrollable pain, chronic fatigue and deformitiesin the lower legs and feet, leading to balance problems and falls. It is currently incurable but can be managed effectively. The charity CMT UK (cmt.org.uk) advises on management, and also support with benefits, jobs and family issues such as genetic counselling.
BEES ARE FOR HEALTH
I’m excited that, thanks to Burt’s Bees Bring Back The Bees campaign (bringbackthebees.burtsbees.co.uk), I have adopted a beehive belonging to Barnaby Shaw, who has hives dotted across London, including on top of the Royal Festival Hall.
One in three mouthfuls we eat is dependent on insect pollination – mainly bees – according to the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA). Not to mention the health benefits of eating local honey, from soothing sore throats to helping hay fever sufferers like me be less sensitive to local pollen.
But these benign buzzers – humming round my pots of lavender as I write – are under threat from pesticides, habitat loss and disease, so helping them is vital. Plant bee-loving plants in your garden or in pots on a balcony or rooftop. Buy a Burt’s Bees Limited Edition Coconut & Pear Lip Balm/£3.99, and BBKA will scatter 5,000 bee-loving wild flower seeds. And consider adopting a beehive, bbka.org.uk.