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Comfort Eating in Recovery


The most common reason for why people fall into addiction in the first place is that they are trying to escape their feelings. This desire for avoidance can continue in sobriety, and this means that the individual will be at risk of falling into new maladaptive behaviours. One of the behaviours that they need to be particularly careful of is comfort eating.

Comfort Eating

Comfort eating is often described as trying to eat away your feelings. The individual feels unhappy, bored, or stressed, and they turn to food as a means of escaping the uncomfortable feelings. The individual may feel a bit better while they are eating, but the reality is that they are just adding to their problems. This behaviour is just like any other form of addiction, and it can lead the individual into a downward spiral of misery. Comfort eating can also be referred to as emotional eating.

Causes of Comfort Eating

It is believed that comfort eating is a behaviour that begins in early childhood. It occurs because the child will begin to associate certain foods with reward. If they are a good girl or boy, their parent may reward them with food. This is often a sugary snack or other type of junk food. When the person grows up they will continue to associate these food items with reward, and they will automatically turn to them when they feel in need of some comfort.

Another reason for why the individual may turn to comfort eating is that they may be addicted to sugar. Many alcoholic drinks are full of sugar, and the individual may turn to sweet food items in recovery as a type of replacement. The sugar rush that people experience gives them a boost, so they will be tempted to keep on trying to repeat it.

One of the effects of addiction is that people can lose the ability to identify their feelings. This means that they can mistake feelings of boredom, anger, or tiredness as feelings of hunger. This means that the person keeps on eating extra food because they are unable to identify what is really troubling them.

Dangers of Comfort Eating

Comfort eating is dangerous for a number of reasons including:

  • If the individual continues with this behaviour, it will lead to obesity.
  • If people are overweight, it can affect their self-esteem. People who fall into addiction already tend to suffer from low self-worth, this feeling of being less than everyone else can make life uncomfortable in recovery, and it will get in the way of being successful.
  • It can lead to health problems associated with poor nutrition and obesity. The fact that the individual will tend to turn to junk food for comfort means that they will be eating things that are not very nutritious but are packed with calories. Comfort eating can lead to a situation where the individual is obese but also suffering from malnutrition.
  • It usually means that the individual will be avoiding their problems. This means that things will not be getting sorted, and the situation is likely to keep on deteriorating.
  • It can lead to symptoms of depression. It may also exacerbate other types of mental health problem.
  • It may be a relapse trigger that encourages the individual to return to alcohol or drugs.
  • It means that the individual will not feel satisfied in recovery, and this will provide them with the ideal justification for relapse.
  • It can lead to body image problems.
  • It will usually mean that the individual becomes lethargic, so that they do not feel like doing anything. This means that life becomes boring and unsatisfying.
  • It can soon lead to heart disease, diabetes, and other problems.

How to Overcome Comfort Eating

Food addictions can be particularly difficult to treat because, unlike alcohol or drugs, the individual cannot just stop eating. The fact that they have now developed an unhealthy relationship with food may mean that they need professional help in order to bring their behaviour under control. In many cases, people who have only recently fallen into the habit of comfort eating in recovery may be able to overcome the problem by:

  • It is important that people only eat when they are hungry and not for comfort. The individual needs to pay close attention to their motivations for eating, and if they are not hungry, they should do something other than eat.
  • It is vital that the individual begins to deal with their problems in life and stop running away from things. Once the individual feels able to cope, they will no longer have this drive to keep hiding from life using food.
  • A food diary can be a good way for people to keep track of what they are eating and when they are eating it. The mere act of recording their intake will often be enough to encourage people to eat more sensibly. It is even possible to purchase apps for mobile devices to make the recording of this information very easy.
  • It is important that people in recovery learn about nutrition, so that they can begin to eat a balanced diet. It is also a good idea for people to record how certain foods make them feel – both when they are eating and in the hours after they have eaten it.
  • It is a good idea to try to avoid sugary food and junk food items. It can be OK to have this type of food occasionally, but it is best to limit to this to more than once a week.
  • It is important to keep in mind that things like sugary soft drinks are packed with calories, but they do not provide much in the way of nutrition. Many of these drinks also contain caffeine, which can also cause problems if used in excess.
  • If people have been overindulging in sugary food they may experience withdrawals when they initially try to give up. It is important to be prepared for this.
  • It is best to stick to a regular schedule for meals and to avoid snacking as much as possible. If people struggle to end their snacking habit right away, they may want to replace sugary snacks with something a bit healthier.
  • If the individual is feeling antsy or bored it is far better for them to go out for a walk than to turn to the fridge. The key to good health is plenty of exercise combined with a nutritious diet.

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