THOUGHTS : Food + Comfort


Food and comfort. Two things I love, two things that have also been an incredible roadblock for my insecurities, my health, my mental wellbeing.

I’ve struggled with my weight and relationship with food since I was 8. I can remember the exact moment when I realized I use food as an emotional outlet, and so the rollercoaster love/hate relationship with eating began. Let me say that again, when I was only an 8-year-old child.

My dad just came home from Dallas, Texas (my hometown) on a business trip and he opened up leftover lasagna from our favorite restaurant, Angelo’s, as a welcome home gift for the family. I was standing on our kitchen island stool, fork in lasagna when he asked my little sister, my mom and I to join him in the living room to have a chat. My heart sank, I felt nauseas, I knew something was wrong. My first instinct was that Dad was mad I was eating his delicious lasagna and that I was in the wrong for doing so. However, it turns out that his business trip was about the fact that he was being relocated for work and the family would be moving to Milwaukee, Wisconsin from my perfect little life in Michigan. News I never thought I would hear, a move I did not want to participate in and an act of being uprooted from the beautiful world, friends and school that I knew was happening no matter how I felt about it.

18 years later I still find myself feeling like that little girl in the kitchen. Bad news or stressful situations have made me run to food or restrict from eating altogether. The last year and a half has been incredibly healing for me because I’ve finally decided to get to know that person I see in the mirror every day. To dig deeper within my emotions, my behaviors and why I think the way I do. I’ve learned about acceptance, how to decipher reality versus creating outrageous scenarios in my head and I’ve calmed the storm that surrounds my relationship with food and eating.

I read a fantastic book by Dr. Susan Albers called Quit Comfort Eating, Lose Weight by Managing Your Emotions. This has been the first self-help book that actually seemed to understand my ups and downs and everything in between when it comes to my eating habits. I’ve always had a hard time losing weight because I’d get on board with a diet, a trendy new workout and do great for 10 days then say screw it all. I’d convince myself I deserved a pint of Ben & Jerry’s + a peanut butter sandwich + a bag of garlic parmesan chips… coming down from the act of eating high, I’d hate myself for screwing up my perfect eating bubble, so I’d starve myself the next day as punishment and to ‘even everything out’ in theory. Dr. Albers’ book made me realize I can take my mindfulness toolkit with me in all aspects of my life – with my food choices, with each bite, choose pleasure and enjoyment of the food in my mouth instead of fearing what it will do to the appearance of my body.

It’s not easy, it’s actually exhausting to learn a new pattern of eating, but it’s helping me create a new friendship with food and mealtime. The anxiety is there, but I’m able to gently talk myself through it instead of saying screw it all, give in to fear and eat everything in sight, emotions high. I’m now able to pause and really listen to what my body needs, not what my emotions want.

Ways you can implement what I’ve learned into your life right this moment:

1) Be cautious, take a mindful pause and question why you are reaching for food as comfort. Maybe you need a walk, a cup of tea or a phone conversation with a supportive friend instead of food.

2) Become aware of how the food makes you feel. I’m a big fan of ice cream, but it does not agree with my body. I will remember and recount the pain or discomfort I’m feeling when I’m having a sneezing fit or wake up from a mucus-y rage in the middle of the night because the sugar and dairy combination really aggravates my sinuses. I ask myself if the ice cream sundae is really worth the discomfort that is inevitable. Sometimes, yes, yes that sundae is worth it! But most times I am able to choose feeling good over the feeling nasty sensation.

3) Question if you are truly hungry or eating for fun, because you are bored or trying to find comfort from food. This takes a bit of self-control and maybe even a few minutes of meditation to quiet the anxiety. Start by closing your eyes wherever you are (yes, in the frozen foods section of Whole Foods, even!) and scanning your body slowly starting with the top of your skull all the way through the tips of your toes. Take a deep inhale and bring the breath back up your body from the toe tips out the top of your skull. Did this moment of breath awareness help you feel something other than hunger in your body? Maybe you have a heavy heart that needs mending – food will not help you. Maybe you have a headache that a Diet Coke will fix – it won’t help you in the long run. Maybe you are feeling self-conscious and you could care less what eating and entire carton of ice cream will do to your body or mind – you do care, because you need to learn how to nourish this body of yours. This is your only true home.

Dr. Albers states, “There is still a lot to learn about the complex reasons people eat comfort foods. Remember that eating (or not eating) when you are stressed is, in part, a biological response that involves many hormones, brain structures and chemicals. Therefore, don’t get so hard on yourself. Instead, at this point, just know your patterns. Identify what kind of unique stress response you have when you get overwhelmed. This can help you prepare and find strategies for eating more mindfully and curbing emotional eating.”

Let’s work to make our relationship with food and eating a better one. Yes, food is 100% the best medicine you can give to yourself. But if you are eating so clean and healthy but you still hate the taste, curse those veggies you chop up or resent your nutritionist that you paid big bucks to ‘fix’ you, you’re not learning, growing, or changing your body and mindset.

Create healthy habits because you deserve a better life. You deserve to be happy and fulfilled in this body that is your home for your literal lifetime. I’m a big fan of taking a good meal and canceling it out with a ‘bad’ one. I’ve also learned that creating definitions like ‘good food’ and ‘bad food’ is incredibly toxic for my mindset. I’ll eat a massive salad of rainbow goodness and feel high on life. I may also order a Topper’s pizza and lounge on my couch with a good friend and feel just as happy and healthy. The balance is listening to your body and actually hearing how it’s feeling, how you are feeling inside. Not giving in to temptation or eating this because you should or because they said so. Cultivate a relationship between your mind and your body. Sit down and really key in to goals you have for your lifestyle – not just to get your ‘bikini’ body or the kick ass job you’ve applied for. Goals such as letting go of the negative self-talk, removing toxic relationships from your life, adding a daily 5 minute meditation to your bedtime routine…

I could continue and I will.

Stay posted on this blog and remember to breathe. Send yourself a little love every time you tell someone else that you love them. Remember that your body is your home, keep it clean, keep the energy positive, keep it well nourished. You truly are a beautiful work in progress.

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© 2019 by Kaleigh Atkinson