It is fairly common for those who break away from addiction to overindulge in food. This might not be too much of a problem in the short-term, but comfort eating can easily become another form of addictive behaviour. The goal of sobriety is not for individuals to move from one addiction to another, so it is important to avoid falling into the trap of overeating.
What is Comfort Eating?
Comfort eating can be described as an attempt by people to avoid unpleasant feelings by turning to food; it is sometimes referred to as trying to eat away emotions. This behaviour occurs because individuals started associating food with reward as children; for example, parents will often repay good behaviour with a sweet treat. Comfort eating usually involves high-calorie junk food because this is what many in the west tend to associate with reward.
The Dangers of Comfort Eating in Recovery
Comfort eating is real problem in the modern world because it has helped to fuel the obesity epidemic. It can be particularly dangerous for those in recovery because:
- Eating the wrong food can make people feel physically unwell and lacking in energy; it means individuals can continue to feel ‘sick and tired’ even though they have managed to break free of alcohol or drug addiction.
- Comfort eating is another way to hide from life; it means that the person is trying to hide from his/her feelings.
- Overeating can lead many to develop body-image issues, damaging their self-esteem (this can be particularly because newly sober people tend to already have low self-esteem).
- The negative side effects of this behaviour can stuck all the joy out of recovery, meaning that people can feel that it justifies a return to their addiction.
- It can lead to health problems that prevent the individual from getting the most out of his/her sobriety. For example, they may become unable to engage in physical activities.
The Triggers for Comfort Eating in Recovery
- feeling lonely
- feeling negative about the future
- feeling anxious
- dealing with an uncomfortable situation
- feelings of anger
- comfort eating can be a symptom of depression
- early recovery can be a stressful time and people can overeat in response to this
- some people will eat out of boredom.
How to Deal with Comfort Eating in Recovery
The key to overcoming comfort eating is to recognise the triggers for it. Those in early recovery are not used to dealing with their feelings because they have been numbing their emotions with alcohol or drugs. This means that they can easily mistake feelings of anger, boredom, or stress for hunger. It can also be the case that people can begin to comfort eat out of habit. The way to deal with comfort eating in recovery includes:
- keeping a diary of what you are eating
- there is an effective technique called mindful eating that has been shown to help people avoid comfort eating
- if people develop effective coping strategies for dealing with stress, anxiety, and boredom, they will be less tempted to turn to comfort eating
- going for a long walk can be far more effective and beneficial for dealing with unpleasant emotions than comfort eating
- the most important tool for dealing with comfort eating is to face the emotion that is driving the behaviour
- there are many useful online resources (for example, discussion groups) to help people overcome comfort eating.