Breaking The Comfort Eating Habit

Hi, my name is Leigh and I am a comfort eater.

I don’t mean to be flippant: for years, comfort eating has been my drug, my vice, my go-to when life has become challenging.

Difficult morning at work? Grab some chocolate at lunchtime.

Difficult day? Pick up something indulgent for the evening.

Feeling low? Cake will make me feel better.

And so on.

Cake and chocolate: two of my emotional crutches in the past.

Cake and chocolate: two of my emotional crutches in the past.

I would comfort eat while knowing the indulgences didn’t ease my stress, or improve my mood. The chocolate or cake might have given me a boost of endorphins – a rush of bliss, a sense of calm. That feel-good rush was only ever short-lived though: those happy hormones would soon nosedive and me with them: I would crash and feel worse.

Not to mention guilty, and uncomfortable about my reliance on food.

It was an unhealthy cycle to be in.

Hugo’s death ramped up the comfort eating cycle, inevitably. Chocolate made me feel a bit better, for a while. During the particularly awful raw early days of grief I took any tiny bit of solace wherever I could find it. My world had ended, and I had to find a way to survive in it. Surely I deserved all the chocolate, cake, and ice cream in the world?

When I eventually started receiving the therapy I needed to help me move forward comfort eating was another crutch. The therapy was challenging and uncomfortable and as a reward after each session I would visit a cafe for a hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows, or a cake.

Sometimes both.

There’s nothing wrong with cake, chocolate, ice cream, or any other indulgence in themselves. They’re one of life’s pleasures. There’s also nothing wrong with turning to your favourite indulgence to cope with a difficult time every now and then, if that’s what helps you.

The trouble for me was relying on comfort food, thinking (however irrationally) that it would make all my problems go away, that it would make me feel better.

What changed?

Life often throws us curveballs, and the consequences can bring a result you never would have imagined.

Back in January this year I had a horrendous, terribly upsetting appointment with a fertility consultant who, in so many words, told me I was fat and that my weight was the sole cause of my inability to conceive.

I was told I would not receive the fertility support I needed (and that I used to conceive Hugo) without losing a certain amount of weight.

My issue with him was not my weight as such – that I was heavier than is healthy for me wasn’t up for debate. It was the wholly insensitive way the conversation was broached – not to mention inaccurate (weight can be a contributory factor for being unable to conceive naturally, but so can stress and a million other factors too – it is an inexact science.).

Feeling inconsolable yet furious and determined to prove the consultant wrong, I signed up with a local gym and a couple of weeks after that started working out with a personal trainer.

I’d been a member of that gym as well as others in the past, but stuck to the cardio machines. Finding them excrutiatingly boring, I didn’t push myself as hard as I could, with the expected (lack of) results. The new workouts were different, varied, and challenging, which made them interesting.

In particular, I discovered boxing! Oh and the battle ropes, and sandbells. In short, anything that involved throwing, hitting or kicking things.

That post-workout glow: something that chocolate and cake can't give!

That post-workout glow: something that chocolate and cake can’t give!

My thirst for these aggressive activities surprised me at first: I’m generally a pretty laid-back, chilled out kind of woman.

Underneath that exterior, however, is a vortex of turbulence, anger, and rage at how crappy and unfair life can be. That Hugo died. That I nearly died too. That my world has been turned upside down. That people can be such insensitive arseholes (especially health care professionals – the clue is in the word ‘care’, so you would think).

The boxing, battle ropes, and sandbells give me a constructive way to deal with the grief, the trauma, and the impact of therapy.

My beautiful boxing gloves: I enjoy it so much, I bought my own!

My beautiful boxing gloves: I enjoy it so much, I bought my own!

It was about eight weeks in to the training sessions where I realised I hadn’t for cake after a therapy session – I realised I didn’t need it. A huge revelation, and I was so proud!

The journey isn’t all plain sailing – there was a very bad week where I self-medicated with chocolate. No one is perfect, right? And that’s why I said at the beginning I am a comfort eater. Just like any addiction, it’s something to work with, and work around.

So, I am trying to cultivate a notion of creating healthier habits, not restrictions.

Stepping away from the indulgent sweet treats is just that – stepping away, seeing them as a treat. Banning them altogether, seeing them as bad is unhealthy too.

When I am tempted by chocolate or cake I try to think why I want it: am I feeling fed up, sad or bored? If the answer is yes I go and workout, build up those endorphins by throwing things. If, on the now less-frequent occasions I really would like chocolate or cake as a treat and not because I think they are going to make my life better – I have some, and I enjoy it.

For me, it is about psychological and emotional wellbeing as well as physical health.

The results speak for themselves:

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Me mid-March 2016. I was straining the seams of many of my size 16 clothes at the time.

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Me, June 2016 – wearing a size 12 skirt.

Me before a recent workout.

Me before a recent workout.

The workouts and being aware of my emotional eating habits are having a positive physical impact: I am losing weight and inches (I am not tracking exact figures; the reason for that is the topic of another post), and my body shape is changing. I knew that long-term stress can have an adverse effect on your body but I didn’t realise until I started training properly how the chemical changes affect your metabolism and make your body more likely to hold on to abdominal fat.

After four months of stress-release training combined with altering my eating habits, my tummy has never been more flat.

I now call training my therapy for therapy!

Oh, and I still need a little treat post-therapy. My journey home takes me through the local town centre. I am a sucker for pretty, colourful things and now have quite a collection of nail polish in lieu of a trip to a cafe.

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4 Comments on Breaking The Comfort Eating Habit

  1. Tara
    June 15, 2016 at 4:44 am (12 months ago)

    Me too, Leigh. I tried to eat myself happy for so long. Just like you, if I have a bad day (or night), I turned to chocolate. I’m trying to break the habit, especially now I’m running again, but I do find it hard. You look absolutely amazing, you can tell you’ve worked so hard. Really well done.
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  2. Michelle Reeves (The Joy Chaser)
    June 11, 2016 at 5:59 pm (12 months ago)

    Oh honey as someone from a family of food self-medicaters I can so relate to this. I turned to exercise in my 20s after realising I was destroying my self esteeme as well as eating unhealthily. I fell in love with the amazing happy hormones working out gave me. Exercise is still one of my Happiness Habits – I move my body every day even if it’s only 10 sun salutations! I’m so so proud of the amazing journey you’re on and how you’re inspiring others. Thank you so much for sharing this and joining us at #sharethejoy my love x
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  3. Amanda
    June 7, 2016 at 6:38 pm (12 months ago)

    I think we all have something that we fall back onto when we are stressed and need an “escape”… For me it is not food (stress actually makes me so sick I can’t stomach anything!) but I do tend to fall into “fix it” mode, which can be anything from buying something to imagining all sorts of life changes to “fix” the issue (which they never do!) And I think recognising these patterns in ourselves can be so hard and yet so incredibly empowering when we do finally see them. So well done to you for not only noticing what was happening but also finding a mote positive alternative!!

    I also want to say I’m sorry to hear about your appointment with the fertility consultant… What is it about consultants who deal with issues related to women’s bodies and being totally inappropriate in how they approach things? I’ve had so many bad experiences with gynaecologists (and even midwives) both due to the Endo and the HG… During pregnancy I was treated like I should have no feelings at all and just deal with the trauma of what was happening and then less than a year later a gynaecologist asked me why I was so determined not to have another baby (because pregnancy gives you 9 months free of Endo – his words exactly!) just after I had described how horrific the experience had been for me. And that’s not even considering the fact that 9 months free of anything is a suitable reason to have a baby!! I just don’t get it, it’s like we’re expected to not have any feelings whatsoever… So once again I am sorry to hear of your negative experience recently but glad to hear you managed to find a positive in there somewhere xx

    #sharethejoy
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  4. Juliet McGrattan
    June 7, 2016 at 5:35 pm (12 months ago)

    There is SO MUCH I like about this post. It’s horrible that you were made to feel that way and I really applaud you for taking action. Your story of comfort eating to cope with your feelings is so common. I think it’s something we inadvertently teach from an early age. A child hurts their knee and they have a drink and a biscuit to make them feel better. They do well at school and get sweets as a treat. It’s a trap I fall into with my own kids all the time.
    Anyway, look at you missus! You’re proof that finding something you really enjoy is the key to getting and more importantly staying active. Get those pink gloves out and go imagine you’re boxing someone who has really upset you … Yet again, you’re turning bad into good and are truly amazing.
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