Ester Marsh: Love/hate relationship with food

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 1, 2022

I had a lot of great feedback after last week’s column and lots of questions.

I want to expand on the eating portion a bit more.

Many people don’t have the characteristics of someone with an eating disorder but do have a love/hate relationship with food. You can survive without alcohol, drugs, sex and gambling but you cannot live without food. No wonder it’s a billion-dollar industry, food and diets!

Comfort eating, also called emotional eating, is a practice of consuming large amounts of food in response to certain feelings instead of being hungry. Experts tell us that at least 75% of overeating is caused by feelings and emotions. Food becomes your “friend.” Food is your friend, except when it becomes something to soothe your feelings. Lots of people think that food will bring comfort, at least for a short time. When food becomes the “pacifier” it will prevent us from learning effective skills to deal with the issues and/or emotions that made us reach for the comfort food in the first place. And of course the calories you are consuming are usually very high. Comfort foods are typically junk foods or high-calorie foods.

We know that stress, loneliness, frustration and all other kinds of emotions can trigger this comfort eating episode. So my first question to you is what are your eating triggers?

Is it a stressful day at work, a challenging relationship, or stress at school, sports and maybe loneliness? To get a good picture of why and what makes you reach for comfort foods, write down when you have these episodes. Are these situations you can control? Or are these things you can avoid? Awareness of your feelings, your body and surroundings are so important to a healthy lifestyle. Too often people just “are.” They reach for foods just “because.” They are in shock when they go to their annual visit with their doctor and have gained weight.

As a fully recovered bulimic, I know how difficult it is to deal with eating disorders and “normal” eating habits. However, awareness, acceptance and support will give you a greater chance to overcome your challenges.

Besides writing down when and why you eat, record what you eat throughout the day. The most successful people who have lost weight (or are on a healthy eating habit) and kept it off, are the ones recording what they eat. Even if you think you can remember what you ate, experience shows that most of the time there were a lot more calories you consumed but weren’t really aware of it. Unfortunately, it is one of the greatest “extra calories” mysteries out there.

One other thing that blows me away is that people will stock their houses with comfort foods. How hard is that? It is right within reach. Try not to have high-calorie foods readily available. There is a lot more time and effort involved getting in the car to get your comfort food than to reach in the cabinet, fridge or freezer.

After you identify your triggers, you have to find responses to a trigger. When you start to reach for food try the following instead:

• Go for a walk or jog

• Read a good book or magazine

• Listen to your favorite music

• Take a bubble bath

• Do house work, yard work, or any work you can find

• Call or talk to a friend

• Go wash your car

• Go exercise! Come to the YMCA or a fitness center, take a class or take a virtual class via YMCA360 or YouTube.

If you still want to reach for your comfort food after all that, you actually deserve it!

So find what triggers your comfort eating, figure out another response to trick the urge for comfort food, and put it all in action (again, again and again….). In time, food will not only be your friend that does not soothe your feelings, it brings your friends, family and co-workers together. Who can resist spending wonderful time together nurturing our bodies?

Ester H. Marsh is health and fitness director of the J.F. Hurley Family YMCA.