I love food! A little too much maybe?
Humans love delicious food to celebrate the good times,
and we use food to soothe ourselves during challenging times.
Self-soothing with food is something to which most of us relate, though I’ve heard people say they don’t like the term ‘self-soothing’
or that self-soothing is for wussies. But if you are stress-eating,
or using food to deal with anxiety, push away discomfort, or buffer uncomfortable emotions, you are self-soothing with food. What’s your favorite comfort food? Pizza? Mac & cheese? Chicken soup? Sugary sweets? Sometimes it doesn’t matter what the food is, it’s the act of eating that soothes us simply by causing a momentary distraction.
One drawback to using food to soothe is that it tends to result in overeating and excess weight. Comfort foods rarely include vegetables, and almost always include either high fat or processed sugar. While neither of those is detrimental in small doses, if we are overeating them on a regular basis, they can cause physical discomfort, increased health risks, chemical imbalances, confusion, emotional fluctuations, and spiritual stress (due to being out of alignment with personal wellbeing goals).
Used repeatedly as an anesthetic, soothing with food sets up the craving/reward cycle.
Cravings and Rewards
A bigger problem with using food to sooth discomfort is that we train ourselves into a cycle of craving and reward. When we experience an emotion that is uncomfortable, then reach for food to dull our discomfort, we are rewarded with a little hit of dopamine.
Dopamine is a chemical signal from our brain that we have done something that sustains life. Our body regularly produces dopamine when we are warm, when we eat, when we have sex – because these things are necessary for survival. The dopamine REWARDS us by making us feel good for a minute.
We experience discomfort. We soothe with food. We receive a chemical reward of dopamine. We experience discomfort, soothe with food, receive a reward. Experience discomfort, soothe, receive reward. Discomfort, soothe, reward. Discomfort, soothe, reward.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Our lizard brain now believes that the foods with which we soothe are necessary for survival. When you try NOT to soothe with food, your mind will try to convince you that you will DIE if you do not indulge.
Have you ever experienced a time when you felt you HAD to have something? Where you felt you couldn’t NOT eat (smoke, drink, do) something, like you will DIE if you don’t? That’s what that was about! Your lizard brain actually thinks it will die without that dopamine reward. Processed sugar produces a highly concentrated hit of dopamine, much higher than the amount we are normally rewarded for engaging in life-sustaining behaviors, so if you are self-soothing with sugary treats, the craving/reward cycle becomes much more powerful.
Despite what our lizard brain thinks, we will not DIE if we don’t get that sugary treat. Imagine a six-year old throwing a tantrum because you won’t give her a candy bar. She can scream and cry and throw the biggest fit full of snot and tears, but you know she’ll be fine. She won’t die because you don’t give her the candy, right?
Compromised Immune System
Another issue with using food as comfort is that it causes an overload of toxins that our body systems must deal with. While the body is focused on removing toxins from less-than-healthy food choices, it has less energy to keep the immune system strong to protect us from illness. And isn’t THAT what we’re all craving right now? Safety. Protection from harm. Food can’t give us that, but a strong immune system can. Protecting our immune system might be the number one reason at this time to avoid using food to soothe our challenging emotions.
Food is fuel. It’s meant to efficiently power our physical body. When we eat to soothe or comfort ourselves, we actually cause discomfort. We experience physical discomfort or mental/emotional discomfort, even spiritual discomfort from misuse and overuse of food.
Food is NOT a healthful coping mechanism.
Things are feeling really stressful for a LOT of people right now.
No one will blame you if you overeat or if you eat foods you normally don’t eat, and you certainly won’t be the only one. But if you want to comfort yourself in a healthy way, or soothe any anxiety you may be feeling, there are many ways to do that without using food.
Some effective ways to soothe without food include:
- Physically place your hand on your heart and pet it. This is an amazingly effective technique for comfort!
- Wrap your arms across your chest and around your own shoulders and give your self a long hug.
- Write yourself a letter and say every comforting thing you wish someone else were saying to you right now, or that you would say right now to a child whom you love with all your heart.
- Get outdoors every day.
- If you can’t get outdoors, google gorgeous landscape photography and imagine yourself in the photograph! Your imagination is a powerful tool.
- Take a walk, even if it’s indoors.
- Go for a run.
- Put on your favorite song and dance around your living room.
- Call a good friend for a long chat.
- Journal about your emotions or about the circumstances you experience and what you are thinking about them.
- Talk to yourself as you would talk to a friend. Have a full conversation about how you understand how hard this is, that you’re sorry you’re going through this, and remind yourself that you will get through this, that everything will work out again, whatever you would tell a close friend in this circumstance, tell it to YOU out loud so you hear it in your own voice.
Please list your favorite HEALTHY ways to cope or soothe
in the comments! I love hearing from my readers!