Winter Comfort Eating—Want to Curb It?
#3 in the Winter Wellness Series
Winter infamously brings on lots of comfort eating for lots of folks. Warm chocolate chip cookies while curled on the couch. Did the pleasure centers in your brain just go wild? There’s a fine line between the simple joy of that winter scenario and this one: Way too many cookies over the course of a Netflix binge in bed. What popped into your head that time? Memory of stomach aches, body aches, feeling draggy, & self recrimination? The first pointed to a nice little indulgence, the second to all-out comfort eating.
Why do we comfort eat? Most of us admit to it on occasion, but how often do we really look behind the behavior? There are many super common reasons: Stress, sleep deprivation & its resulting mood dips, and anxiety-inducing boredom all send us looking for something soothing. Since eating & nursing were arguably our very first comforting activities, representing love & security, no wonder we reach for food. More potently, carbs from sugars (except fructose) trigger a release of seratonin in our brains. Seratonin lifts mood and promotes calm. Sugar also works on our brains’ reward systems, tripping a dopamine release that feels downright wonderful.
So, what’s the harm? Most obviously, the excess calories can cause weight creep, which can elevate BMI and put us at risk for a scary plethora of illness & disease. Linked is the problem of chronic inflammation set off by high sugar consumption. Some scientists even argue that ongoing overuse of sugar can deplete valuable seratonin stores. More immediately, of course, you feel the “crash” in mood & energy that inevitably hits after a big bout of comfort eating. Then what? Often, we resort to more comfort eating—It's a vicious cycle.
Comfort eating is typically a bear of a habit to break. Winter can make it even tougher if we’re cooped up with a bunch of goodies. Worse, this year, we find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic that’s further limiting our healthy distractions & creating an added layer of stress. The best advice on breaking the habit, honestly, has less to do with “tricks” and leans more on a mega-charged dose of mindfulness. Pay attention to the REAL reasons you’re comfort eating and try to change tactics. Wiped out & sad? Walk past the fridge to a cozy bed. Bored? Try losing yourself in something engrossing & engaging (not TV) like a book, an instrument, a fixer-upper car, a sewing project. Stressed? Work out, meditate, journal. Lonely? Set an oxytocin date with a friend or loved one, via FaceTime if needed. This sounds way too easy, I know. I also know that it is NOT. But paying attention and switching behaviors, even once in a while, may be our best shot at curbing this incredibly frustrating habit.
You still ate more, even knowing it wouldn’t end all that well? Ah, you must be human. If you stay in the pyre of guilt and harsh self talk, guess what—more stress and awful moods ensue. This feels terrible. We want a quick escape. We’re at risk again of prolonging the cycle. Let it go, as Elsa says. Tomorrow have a PLAN and try to line up some support. If we're so blessed, there's always another chance to eat well & feel better.
PS: To check out the other posts in this Winter Wellness series, just click back to our home page.