The Truth About Comfort Eating

The Truth About Comfort Eating

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What Is Comfort Eating?

When you experience a negative emotion, comfort eating helps you feel better.

You may not even be really hungry, or may feel you are rewarding yourself for something you have done. You may even carry on eating after you’re full.

Why Do You Comfort Eat?

Reasons you may overindulge with food are:

  • Stressed
    • During stress, your body produces high levels of cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that triggers cravings for salty, sweet, and fried foods. These tend to be foods that give you a burst of energy and pleasure.
  • Anxious.
  • Feeling you’ve lost control over a situation.
  • Bored – fill a gap in your life.
  • Upset.
  • Angry.
  • Habit – childhood memories.
Overhead of Soup in a Bowl With Coriander

Why Do You Reach For Comfort Foods?

You hope the chosen food will stop the negative feelings because you associate them with positive memories.

Soup is often given to children when feeling ill. You associate it with the your parent who gave it to you and that it made you feel better, as it warmed and nourished you.

You may reach for chocolates, sweets or cakes. Were these used as a reward when you were a child? As an adult, you may feel you have done something good and “deserve a treat”. Your childhood memory instantly suggests a sweet treat fits the bill. This is fine in moderation, but is more damaging when it happens more frequently.

Comfort foods often include sugar, oil and salt. They can cause a rise in dopamine in the brain, which makes us happy. Eliminating sugar from your diet is a good first step to curb those cravings, as the more you have the more you want.

How Do You Know If Your Hunger Is Emotional Or Physical?


Emotional hunger is a hunger driven by your head, not the stomach, and is often triggered by a negative emotion.

It is a sudden hunger. Once satisfied, it often makes you feel guilty.

You only want foods that you know will provide comfort and you don’t even think about eating mindfully. You just want to get the food in as quickly as possible to make you feel happier.

Even when you’re full, you feel you need to keep eating, if you’re not feeling more positive.

Child hand in sweets


Physical hunger is driven by the stomach. It’s hard to ignore the growling, as it prompts you to eat and nourish your body.

It’s more of a gradual hunger.

Eating more healthy food to help your body build up its nutrient levels makes you happy.

You stop eating when you feel full.

You don’t feel guilty for eating, as you know it provided your body with nourishment that it needed.

Keeping Track of Emotional Eating

Keeping a food diary can help determine where your emotional eating is triggered.

This will allow you to record all the food you eat, alongside how you are feeling at the time. It helps you see a pattern of behaviour and triggers that lead to you emotionally eating.

Alternative ways to cope with the triggers include:

  • Call a friend
  • Exercise
  • Self care time
  • Take up a hobby
  • Get more sleep

Try to be mindful of your emotions and what you are doing in that moment.

Can Comfort Foods Be Healthy?

Yes they can! It’s all about how you serve them.

Mashed potato is a good carbohydrate, which gives us energy. It doesn’t have to be mixed with copious amounts of milk, cream or butter. You can just mash it or add a small amount of butter. You could even have mashed potato consisting of half potato and half carrots or cauliflower.

Have a smaller portion of your favourite pudding and replace cream or custard with Greek yoghurt or crème fraiche.

Should I see a doctor?

If you feel your emotional eating is getting out of hand, always see your doctor to check that you are not suffering from an eating disorder.

Your doctor may refer you to a dietitian or even a counsellor, if the issues need addressing mentally first.

Emotional eating may have different triggers for different people. Don’t ever compare your situation to anyone else.

There could be lots of different reasons why you are turning to comfort foods. If your health is suffering it is important to get to the source of the problem and address that. No amount of dieting will help if your head is not in the right place. In fact, yo-yo dieting may well create another problem.

Nourish your body and mind and help to banish harmful cravings.