By Sarah Stacey
Q I keep gaining weight because I comfort eat. Recently I didn’t get a job I wanted and, although I wasn’t hungry, started eating chocolate and cakes out of pure despair and frustration. It’s my way of coping with failure and rejection. Can you give me any advice?
A Many overweight and obese people have become that way owing to emotion and stress-related eating. In one study of 337 obese primary care patients aged 18-65, half reported high emotional eating, which is known to affect women more than men.
Anna Storey, an accredited counsellor who offers weight management counselling, says: ‘Our relationship with food is formed before we can walk or talk. Food is one of our first sources of comfort, so it’s not surprising that we rely on it in times of distress.’
Anna works with clients on resolving emotional blocks or needs that prompt us to turn, as you did, to sugar-laden treats such as chocolate and cake. ‘An emotional event in our lives, if left unprocessed, can lead to comfort eating and therefore weight gain. Start by thinking back to the time and place when you first started eating to comfort yourself – it is often in childhood – and then list your current triggers. How do you feel just before you reach for that chocolate bar? And after? Understanding your feelings will help you to see the real reasons behind your weight gain.’
Letting go of these past and present traumas can, in turn, help you to let go of the urge to eat when you feel rejected and frustrated, so you can develop a more healthy relationship with food and lose your excess weight. You may feel you need the help of a therapist like Anna. The website welldoing.org helps you to find a suitable, qualified and experienced therapist locally.
Meanwhile, there are simple ways to help yourself:
– Eat balanced meals, sitting at a table. Never skip meals. For a sensible eating plan to lose weight and get healthy, I recommend The Louise Parker Method: Lean for Life (Mitchell Beazley, £20), which advises a holistic approach.
– When you are tempted to dive into the cake tin – and not stop at one slice – just stand still and slowly count to ten, suggests Natalia Traxel, a doctor and nutritionist (nataliatraxel360.com).
– Ask yourself why you are reaching for food now. Are you really hungry? In which case, eat something wholesome rather than a sugar-laden ‘treat’.
– Or are you feeling tired, lonely, bored, angry or dispirited and in need of comfort and distraction? Salving those feelings could take a different form from food, such as a hug, a phone call with a friend, a walk or doing something creative.