T is the season to be hungry; chocolate yule logs are filling the shelves and Costa are warming us up with overpriced, mince pie spiced, cappuccinos. Comfort eating in winter is inevitable, yet we still shame those who turn to Mr Cadbury for emotional advice. Perhaps, rather than fixating on the guilt that accompanies comfort eating we should accept it for what it is and move on
For many of us comfort eating provides temporary solace. Its unbelievable what a chocolate bar can do to lift our mood. Whether it’s the momentary sugar rush or the fact that chocolate bars seem to be incredibly patient listeners, a small glutenous act can be just what you need. Despite this, we’re constantly told that eating to soothe or distract from negative emotions is a problem. Incorrect. Emotions are personal and require a personal response. Evidently some methods of escapism are ‘healthier’ than others, but nobody should define how you deal with your own emotions.
Having acknowledged and accepted comfort eating, it’s crucial to understand that all methods of escapism should be done in moderation. Comfort eating is like paracetamol; it numbs the pain but does not address the problem. Yes, comfort eating should not be something you feel ashamed of, but nor should it be encouraged, and it should certainly not be seen as a positive way to deal with a problem. After the ice cream has gone, the problem is still there, and no amount of eating can ever make it go away. See comfort eating as a buffer, a way to calm you down, pick you up and put you in a stronger mental position to be able to evaluate the situation and deal with it in a positive way.
However, perhaps the problems associated with comfort eating are much deeper ingrained in our society than we realise. Adolescents, in particular, need to strengthen their relationships with food. Food should not be seen as the enemy. The guilt associated with comfort eating stems from the deteriorating relationship that our contemporary society has with food. Food should not just be seen as nutrition to fuel our bodies. Food should be a pleasure not a battle. Each time we choose to put food into our bodies we are making a decision and that decision is for nobody else to pass judgement on. Eating is emotional, and humans are emotional beings.
We must recognise that emotions are transient. Each different emotion requires a different response and it is our responsibility to recognise the emotion we are feeling and then address it in the most appropriate way. Eating is definitely not the best response to the majority of problems and many other methods of escapism, such as exercise and meditation to name a few, will have a much more positive effect on both your mental and physical health. However, what must be recognised is that comfort eating is not a crime, its normal. Emotional eating only becomes a problem when it is your only coping mechanism. So, if you fancy a little cry and a cornetto don’t worry about it, enjoy it.
If you are struggling with eating difficulties contact Wellbeing Centre, Student Minds Support Group or Eating Disorders Devon.