Why we eat when we feel bad, and what to do about it
Lady holding a pink donut

So often food is the first thing we think about when we feel bad. Soon thinking turns to craving, and craving leads to indulging. For a brief moment nothing else really matters as we eat that food. It’s as though time stops still, as we escape to our own little party in a different place, a place where things are much better. Only this moment is fleeting, and soon we feel just as bad, only worse now as guilt and regret adds to an already bad situation.

Food is used by many as a way of escaping from uncomfortable emotions. For a period of time it makes us feel better, because food holds happy memories that are triggered when we eat. Think of how many happy memories we all have as kids, which involve food. Birthday parties, Christmas, family lunches and dinners. Food and celebrations are strongly linked, and this is part of what we crave when we feel bad. We want to feel happy.

The other reason why feeling bad fuels eating is because it gives us a sense of control. Food is one way that we can exercise control, and for those who have been on many diets in the past, how we eat has been controlled by rules for a long period of time. When we feel bad, it’s human nature to want to liberate ourselves from any perceived rules and restrictions placed on us, and this can make us feel better and more in control. This reaction is far more common than you might expect, and it’s why so many diets lead to self-sabotage- it’s about liberating ourselves from rules that have been imposed on us.

For anyone struggling with this sort of comfort eating, there are strategies you can use which will greatly reduce your craving for food when feeling bad. These strategies are twofold…

One- Learn to be comfortable with feeling bad. Being human means experiencing a range of emotions, some good and some bad. Negative emotions are part of life, and realising that it’s ok to feel bad is the key. We don’t need to run from bad emotions because in time they will pass by themselves, without any intervention by ourselves. We don’t need to turn to food to escape them, because there is no need to escape in the first place

Two- Give yourself permission and remove restriction. This is the cure for self-sabotage. If you find your craving is too strong to ignore, then think about what food you really want, and allow yourself to enjoy it guilt free. They key is not to devour it in record time, but to take your time with the purpose of enjoyment

Of course like anything practice makes perfect so you might struggle with these strategies at first, but keep persisting with them and before long you will notice comfort eating happens less and less and your control over food cravings will significantly improve.

-David Finnin