Society taught me that comfort eating was bad. That I should be ashamed of any times I comfort ate in my life. Ironically, that “shaming” led to me comfort eating even more. Indeed, societal norms can cause us to find ourselves in a deadly cycle – I was shamed for being chubby – I comfort ate – I maintained my chubbyness – I was shamed for having comfort ate – I comfort ate….and so the cycle continued.
When I developed bulimia, I was very ashamed of myself. I thought I was weak for eating and that I was a disgrace for not being anorexic. I saw anorexia as the “strong eating disorder” and bulimia for the weak and disgusting.
I had internalised the shame from others for comfort eating as a child to shame myself for comfort eating as a bulimic. People shamed me growing up and so I was fully capable of shaming myself.
Sometimes when I would say nasty things about myself in therapy, my therapist would challenge me and ask who said those things to me. I was confused at first, thinking “well, I’m saying those things to me” but what he really meant was who had caused me to internalise such nasty thoughts. I discovered that the words never originated from me; they were from coaches, teachers, family, so-called friends and yet I had internalised those words so much I truly believed them myself.
I am going to have to be careful when trying to explain this but, during my recovery I have learned that comfort eating can be helpful.
We may seek comfort food when we are down for some reason or other. We seek it because it will make us feel better. I mean, there’s science to prove that chocolate makes us happy! But, once you shame yourself for wanting and having that comfort food, it turns the comfort into a bad thing and I think that’s when we become vulnerable and more susceptible to over-eating.
Recognising that we would like comfort food because we’re having a tough day is a great thing to acknowledge. During some of my toughest days, when I would crave comfort food and feel guilty before even eating it, I began to question why did I want that comfort food? I would recognise my day had been tough: perhaps work was stressful, perhaps I was having medical problems, perhaps I was simply down.
By recognising that I had a genuine need for comfort food, I was able to accept the comfort that food gave me and, actually, I was able to have the food without overeating, without risking a binge/purge and, most importantly, without shaming myself.
Slowly I started to lose the association between comfort eating and shame. Actually allowing myself to comfort eat reduced my overall cravings and reduced the risk of a binge. Allowing myself that compassion and understanding that I needed comfort, and I wanted that comfort from food, allowed me to use that comfort for positive reasons rather than negative.
So comfort eating isn’t all that bad after all and we shouldn’t be shamed for being human and finding comfort in food – the very thing that keeps us alive.