Winter comfort eating- are your emotions driving your eating habits & food choices?

Many people find that they experience increased appetite or struggle with comfort eating during the winter months.

Whilst we do need to adjust our food choices to reflect the cold weather and may naturally be drawn to heavier foods we can still give our body what it needs at this time of year and avoid overloading it with foods that make us feel heavy or sluggish by practicing mindfulness.

There are plenty of options for healthy comfort-type foods such as warming soups, stews and slow cooker meals.

Many of the vegetables in season at present are heavier and more grounding such as root vegetables eg. sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, pumpkin and swede.

These seasonal vegetables are also naturally slightly sweet, a sweetness that is more noticeable if you're not consuming a lot of refined sugars which deaden your taste buds  to the natural sweetness found in vegetables and more obviously in fruits.

If you find yourself reaching for food more often when the weather is cold, make it a habit to question your reason for doing so- Are you REALLY hungry? There are some tips for practicng mindful eating which can help to know when you're not actually hungry but are looking for food as source of comfort or for emotional reasons.

Naturopathic Emotional Release (NER) is fantastic for getting to and clearing the underlying or subconscious emotions or thought patterns that are driving emotional eating/self sabotage or which are making it hard to stay on track with healthy eating and healthy habits. You can read more about NER here and find the booking links for both online and in-person NER sessions :

Simple questions to ask to support mindful eating-
Here are some questions and considerations to help you determine your habits around food and eating and some of the emotional drivers..

Are you REALLY hungry?

-Have you noticed that you sometimes eat when you're not actually hungry?
-Do you eat when you are feeling stressed or experiencing other emotions such as anger, sadness or frustration? feeling disappointed, lonely or bored?

-Do you eat to 'reward' yourself after a busy day or when things didn't go according to plan?

-Do you have comforting associations ( or memories) around certain foods?

Emotional/stress/comfort eating is very common and the first step in getting on top of it is identifying that you are doing it and beginning to understand what your triggers are or what is driving it for you.

-Do certain foods have a temporary calming or soothing effect on you? - this can be as a result of their effect on your brain chemistry eg. carbohydrate foods can temporary increase your serotonin levels (happy neurotransmitter) which can be one of the reasons which many people crave sweet foods or high carbohydrate foods when feeling flat.

-Do you tend to crave fatty foods or salty foods? these also have an effect on your brain chemistry.

Many of us have been taught to suppress or disassociate from our feelings and eating is one way of doing this. When we emotionally eat, we are distracted by the process of eating and can 'stuff' our feelings down to avoid having to feel them.

You may have heard the term 'eating my feelings' and we see this depicted in media through the stereotypical image of a woman sitting on the couch watching television eating a tub of icecream or a block of chocolate.

For many of the empathic or highly sensitive women who I work with, food and eating can unconsciously appear to provide a buffer against overwhelming feelings and energies. Because highly empathic women are easily affected by the emotions and energies around them it is important to be mindful of coming back to your own energy and your body, which makes it easier to discern what is yours and what you may be feeling from those around you.

Sometimes we also use eating as an attempt to 'ground' ourselves when we have disconnected to our bodies and become caught up in a sea of emotions or energies around us. It is really important to learn to recognise when you're seeking food, not through actual hunger but as a means to escape or avoid feeling something. It is also important for all of us, whether you identify as being highly sensitive or empathic or not to recognise that you have become overwhelmed and need to find other ways to process emotions and energies.

It can be helpful to note:

WHY, WHEN or WHERE food cravings or emotional eating occurs for you.

For example:

WHY? Missed lunch/stress at work/feeling tired/feeling flat
WHEN? Note the time eg. Mid-afternoon, after dinner etc/ after an argument/ pre-menstrually
WHERE? At home/ at work/in the car
WHAT? Chocolate/something sweet/fried food/bread/salt.

See if you can notice patterns of when cravings for certain foods occur. Keeping a diary can help you see the patterns more easily.
Once you have identified the key times that you are experiencing cravings or are emotional/stress eating, it is easier to put some measures in place to overcome them.

ASK YOURSELF OR YOUR BODY - “Am I actually hungry? Do I need this food?” then if not actually hungry, but still wanting a particular food ask "What do I really need?" or  “Is there a feeling that I am craving?” or "Is there a feeling which I am trying to avoid and if so, how else can I safely support myself to process that feeling?" eg. What is the feeling that you know you will temporarily get from eating the food? eg. Comfort, nurturing, control, calmness.

Can you think of another way to create that feeling within yourself without needing to eat the food? Can you find another way to manage stress eg. deep breathing to feel calm or soothed or other ways to nurture yourself or provide a sense of comfort eg. A cup of herbal tea in a nice cup and reading a book or magazine, having a bath, chatting to a friend, going for a walk, doing some yoga or meditation.

If eating to deal with stress try going outside for fresh air, writing in a journal, going for a walk, making a cup of calming herbal tea, deep breathing or other exercise which you enjoy.

When we give our body what it really needs nutritionally, we are less likely to be constantly hungry because the body doesn't have to signal you to eat in order to get the nutrients that it needs to function- just as when we support ourselves emotionally ( or find ways to fulfill us on an emotional level) then we don't need to use food for emotional comfort.

Understanding your relationship with food and creating a healthy relationship with food is an often overlooked, but key component in weight loss and is as important for your health as eating good quality, nutritionally dense food!


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