Stuck at home and comfort eating…

What if I told you the issue is less with the eating or food and more with the concept that “comfort eating” is something you should try and avoid.

There are a number of layers to this and I’ll do my best to break things down by looking at how this “comfort eating” may look and feel depending on your relationship with food and body.

But first, I want to make it clear that eating for reasons other than hunger, can be a perfectly normal and healthy part of the human experience. Eating for social interaction, entertainment, tiredness, mood changes, practicality (one may need to eat before hunger strikes with the knowledge they may not be able to eat for a certain period), or for the simple pleasure of food itself can all be part of normal healthy eating experience.

When food is eaten with awareness of the food and the reason behind choosing to eat, then it does not need to be a problem. For the person with clear appetite awareness, eating outside of physical hunger can reduce the amount of food eaten at (or delay) the next point of hunger, avoiding excess energy intake. A key point here, is the capacity to feel physical hunger as a clear sensation and to differentiate between other non-physical hunger cues. If you struggle with this, learning how to get back in tune with physical hunger and become aware of non-hungry tiggers is a vital part of developing a healthy relationship with food.

comfort eating

Let’s explore three differing relationships with food

 

The person with a complicated or troubled relationship with food

If you’re unsure where your relationship with food stands, do our quick free quiz


The key points here surround –
Not eating enough (deliberate and unintentional calorie restriction)
Food restriction
Being “too healthy”


When comfort eating is experienced as problematic, usually the two key areas driving the eating are heightened emotions (or unmet needs) and food restriction. For many people, dealing with the food restriction first, attenuates the eating in response to emotions/unmet needs and alleviates the level of guilt or sense it is an issu
e.

Food restriction can take the form of physical or mental restriction of certain food, or simply not eating enough food to meet energy requirements (for example, when pursuing weight loss or following someone else’s advice on what, when and how much to eat). Physical restriction is not allowing yourself to eat food you want to eat, mental restriction is eating the food but thinking you shouldn’t be eating it, or that you need to compensate in some way. Of course people can chose not to eat a food and be perfectly comfortable with that decision, what I am referring to here, is when people are experiencing an active struggle with restriction that then leads to distress or shame when the food is eaten or over-eaten.

It is human psychology to desire more, what you can’t have; it’s a case of “deprivation drives desire” and “the forbidden fruit effect”. All of us have, at some point in our life, experienced wanting something with much greater intensity when we thought it was off limits or not readily available. 

The human brain is hard wired to seek out food; eating is one of our most basic human needs, like the need to breathe and need to sleep. When energy intake is insufficient – as with most diets or plans designed to achieve weight loss – the brain releases a chemical that triggers our drive to eat, this chemical actively makes us think about food and makes food smell, look and taste more appealing. If you aren’t eating enough, and you’re not clear about your appetite cues, you might mistake your body’s actual need for food as a form of comfort eating or eating more than you should. For example, if you’re running low on food energy but you don’t actually recognise you’re hungry (probably as your appetite awareness has been blunted), the decision to eat one or two biscuits or squares of chocolate can easily turn into several more because your body actually needs the food energy.

Even if you are eating enough, thinking you shouldn’t be eating certain food can heighten your desire for this food as previously mentioned. Whichever the scenario – just needing to eat more, thinking you shouldn’t be eating something or a combination of the two – the outcome usually leads to sense of failure and the very common diet mentality: “I’ve blown it now, may as write off the rest of the day and be good tomorrow” or “I’ll just finish this packet so it’s not in the house and then never buy it again.”

One other common factor is trying to be too healthy – what do I mean by this?

The misguided belief that you’re better off choosing the salad over the toasted sandwich. I’ll give you an example from one of my clients, let’s call her Sue. For many years Sue was enjoying a toasted cheese sandwich for lunch, then one day her young adult son decided to go on a “health kick” and suggested his mum join him. Toasted sandwiches were out and salads were in. Sue really enjoyed the salads, they had chicken, cheese, avocado etc and were very tasty. But soon Sue found herself craving sugar in the afternoons and eating cake or a pastry most days, something she’d never done regularly in the past. When we explored this, Sue learned that her body needed some carbohydrate with lunch, something the toasted sandwich gave her but the salad didn’t. When she went back to having the sandwich, the sugar cravings disappeared. Some reading this may be thinking, “but the toasted sandwich lacks vegetables!” – well it doesn’t have to, and as it turned out, Sue often put various veggies in the sandwich, she also had always eaten a large serve with dinner and so her vegetable intake was not lacking.

 

 

The person with a fairly sound relationship with food and sound appetite awareness, but who has the typical diet mentality of our culture


You have no, or very little, preoccupation with food or eating, you may think of food as good or bad depending on nutritional content, and although you may sense some guilt, you don’t get overly upset with yourself around food. You can enjoy food freely without feeling terrible about yourself or your body.

At the risk of repeating everything I’ve just said about the person with the more complicated relationship with food, the exact same advice applies. The difference for these people, is they may not feel the high level of guilt/shame or anxiety around eating, be that for comfort or just because they feel like it.

The issue here is more that the typical diet mentality of our diet culture may lead to not quite eating enough (the decision to eat less is nearly always validated in our society as “being good”), being “too healthy” or the forbidden fruit effect which can all influence the way we eat as outlined above. Learning how to recognise and reject diet mentality – a central principle of intuitive eating – may be all that is required, along with ensuring you are eating enough and to a level of satisfaction (another core principal of intuitive eating).

Without the diet mentality, you might still choose to eat when you’re not hungry – remember this is normal – but without emotion attached to the food or eating, you just enjoy the food and get on with your day. As mentioned previously, eating with awareness of the food and the reason behind choosing to eat, can delay or reduce the amount of food eaten at the next point of hunger and prevent excess energy intake.

The person with a healthy relationship with food and not (overly) influenced by diet culture


Let me use a client example again to explain, this time we’ll call them Alex. Alex has noticed she is snacking more since working from home, on one particular day during the first week at home she snacks on a variety of foods over the day, she is very aware she is not hungry much of the time, but gives herself permission to enjoy the food without any sense of doing the “wrong thing”. When dinner time comes, Alex realises she has no appetite at all and so decides not to eat, a little later that evening Alex starts to feel hungry and makes herself some toast which satisfies her.

After several days like this during her first couple of weeks working from home, Alex finds herself craving a “decent/square” meal. Several days of snack type foods and not many veggies or protein rich foods, and Alex has become tired of the crackers and dip, biscuits, muesli bars, chocolate etc and returns to her usual pattern of eating. From time to time, she still finds herself standing at the cupboard looking at the biscuits or chocolate, but she acknowledges whether or not she’s actually hungry and if hungry, prepares food she knows will be more satisfying. When she’s not hungry, but just feels like something sweet, she breaks off a few squares of chocolate or grabs a couple of sweet biscuits and sits down with a cup of tea to enjoy them.

I know there will be people reading this who find this idea of being around food almost fanciful, but this is how learning to eat intuitively can change your relationship with food. For some people, the process of intuitive eating may be straightforward and for others it will be complex and can take a long time, but with the right help, you can get there. You can be Alex!

 

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Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out
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Want to learn how to nourish your body without dieting or restricting food?
Learn about intuitive eating with our ebook Nourish.

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“Scarcity makes us anxious, abundance allows us to feel calm”

I came across this quote in a book that unfortunately I can’t remember the name of. It is a quote I use often with my clients when explaining why the brain does what it does sometimes with food.

Many people are experiencing this with toilet paper right now, but this fact can have a profound effect on our relationship to some food.

When you tell yourself that you have to stop eating a particular food, let’s go with sweet food, it’s normal human psychology for your brain to become anxious and want you to have as much of that sweet food as you can when it is available.

Not everybody experiences this, but if you know you’re likely to eat the whole block of chocolate when it’s in the house, then part of what is driving that, is your brain’s anxiety about scarcity. Paradoxically, many people don’t keep chocolate in the house because they’re worried they’ll eat it all, but it can be this behaviour that leads to eating all the chocolate when it is available.

Through the intuitive eating process and with learning to how to let go of the need to restrict, time and time again I have clients tell me they bought some chocolate and its now been siting the cupboard for weeks! They know it’s there, they’re just no longer anxious about not having it and they know they can get more whenever they feel like it.

intuitive eating dietitian

 

If you feel your relationship with food could use some help, or if you would also like to enjoy your food free of guilt, give us a call, or find a non-diet/intuitive eating dietitian near you (just make sure they are HAES®️ aligned).

 

dietitian melbourne

 

 

 

 

Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out
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Want to learn how to nourish your body without dieting or restricting food?
Learn about intuitive eating with our ebook Nourish.

Click the banner to grab your copy today!

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“Every food has value”

In talking about how her relationship with food has changed, a client described her decision to order some hot chips. She was hungry, she likes hot chips and they were one of the only gluten free options (she has Coeliac disease). In the past these chips would have come with a massive serve of guilt and shame, or she would have let herself go hungry, and getting over-hungry usually led to eating way past comfortable fullness that evening.

This time, my client was not only able to enjoy the chips free of shame, the lack of self judgement meant she was able to tune into her bodies appetite cues and she ate to the point of satisfaction rather than demolishing the whole lot just because they were there.

intuitive eating dietitian

As we discussed all the benefits of rejecting common diet mentality around food, that is; chips are bad, chips are unhealthy, chips are fattening, you won’t lose weight eating chips etc etc, my client expressed a new understanding that “every food has value”. I thought this was a brilliant way to look at food. 

In this case, the value lay in the freedom to enjoy food without mental distress or shame and honouring hunger which prevented over-eating and the mental and physical discomfort that comes with that. The fact that chips are also a nourishing food was more a bonus in this instance.

For so many people, not only does eating chips result in shame and mental distress over food, but the judgement about “being bad” or eating “wrong or unhealthy food” usually prevents people from tuning into their bodies needs. This often results in eating past satisfaction, to a point of feeling over-full with the thought that “I’ll be good tomorrow” or “It’s the last time I’ll have them.” 

If you feel your relationship with food could use some help, or if you would also like to enjoy your food free of guilt, give us a call, or find a non-diet/intuitive eating dietitian near you (just make sure they are HAES®️ aligned).

dietitian melbourne

 

 

 

 

Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out
.

Want to learn how to nourish your body without dieting or restricting food?
Learn about intuitive eating with our ebook Nourish.

Click the banner to grab your copy today!

non-diet dietitians Melbourne

Intuitive eating – where does nutrition fit in and 6 questions to ask yourself to see if you’re ready

One misconception with intuitive eating is that the idea is to eat whatever you want without a thought for nutrition or health. That said, you will most likely find that when you start the process, allowing yourself to eat freely without worrying about nutrition is actually a key step in healing your relationship with food. This includes the ability to rewire your brain and change your thinking around food to soften (and eventually rid) any anxiety, emotional distress or shame you have with food.

Once you’ve reached a point* where you feel much calmer around food, the food battle in your head has ceased and you think about food and/or nutrition a hell of a lot less, you may be ready to start paying more attention to nutrition. A key point here though, is how much attention do you actually need to pay to your nutrition? If you have a medical or health condition that is affected by food choices, then yes you may benefit from some gentle focus on nutrition.  If you’re free a specific medical or health condition and generally you feel well and energised with your current pattern of eating, perhaps more focus is unnecessary. Either way, a non-diet dietitian can guide you with how much focus you may or may not need.

While nutrition is important to all humans, it has been massively overplayed. We are inundated with nutrition knowledge, self help books, recipe books, online recipes, the internet in general, ready to eat meals, food packaging, menu boards, social media, TV, gyms, a variety of health professionals,  health coaches, fitness trainers and more – but where has all this knowledge taken us?

 

anti diet dietitian


If we consider that calories as we know them today didn’t come into common thinking until the 20th century, nor did we know what a vitamin was until last century and macronutrients were only discovered in the 1800s, how did humans manage prior to this? That is to say, humans have managed to feed themselves well enough for 1000s of years without this nutrition knowledge.

Rather than helping the majority of people have a better understanding of how to nourish themselves well, it would appear that we humans are more confused than ever! Rates of disordered eating and eating disorders are on the rise globally, especially in Asian countries. An over-focus on nutrition, especially tracking calories and/or macronutrients is commonly part of what leads people into disordered eating or an eating disorder.

Even if tracking calories and macronutrients doesn’t mess with a person’s psychology around food or result in mental health issues, it takes us away from listening our own internal cues of hunger, fullness and satisfaction, it takes us away from trusting our own bodies with what, when or how much to eat, something humans would have done naturally before we were introduced to the science of nutrition. A key part of the intuitive eating process is to redirect our thinking away from external cues (largely driven by nutrition science) on how to eat and instead reconnect to our bodies natural wisdom with eating.

Of course there are some circumstances where it may be useful to focus more on nutrition and even to monitor or track calories and/or macros. Some athletes, some pregnancies and some medical conditions may benefit from the nutrition knowledge we know have, but this isn’t always necessary. If you happen to have a medical or health condition that could benefit from modern nutrition knowledge, then by no means am I against using this knowledge, but we need to really careful with how we balance this against a person’s life circumstances and current relationship with food and body.

If you’ve had a complicated relationship with food but are on the mend, or fully healed and you’d like to focus on an aspect of nutrition, ask yourself these 6 question to see if you’re ready…

  1. If for whatever reason it does’t happen, you’re completely ok with that and you don’t get mad at yourself
  2. You enjoy eating that way, perhaps finding it even more pleasurable
  3. The dietary change doesn’t increase how much you think about food when you don’t need to be
  4. If you’re out of usual routine, ie on holidays and it’s not practical or is more difficult to follow the dietary change, it doesn’t phase you at all and you’re happy to go with the flow and wait until you’re back in usual routine
  5. There is no guilt, shame or mental distress attached to whether or not you do what you intended
  6. You don’t feel compelled to tell others what you’re doing, or advise that they would benefit from doing it too

Gentle nutrition is one the 10 principles of the intuitive eating process developed by dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. You can read about the 10 principles here 

* This can take anywhere from a few months to a few years

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Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out
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Want to learn how to nourish your body without dieting or restricting food?
Learn about intuitive eating with our ebook Nourish.

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Do you struggle with sugar cravings?

When people come to see me for help with their eating, they often feel they can’t control their intake of sweet food, or “junk” food or how much they eat when they get home from work (or on weekends). I hear people say “I’m good during the day/week, it’s afterwork… or when I have something sweet… or once my partner’s gone to bed… or when I eat out that’s the issue.”

These people usually have something in common – not eating enough during the day. Sometimes not enough carbohydrate, but mostly not enough food (ie calories) and typically they’re not even aware. In fact, it’s normal to think eating less is the “right” thing to do. Almost everywhere you look – TV, social media, your social circle, family, local gyms and even well meaning health professionals (including your GP) – eating less or restricting certain foods is validated as a “good” thing, what you “should” be striving to achieve. This is the diet culture we live in.

It is true that some people do eat more than what they need, however no person or meal plan can know how much anyone else needs to eat and this results in a blanket like calorie reduction which is not enough food for most people. Even if you plug your height, weight and activity level into an app, this can’t account for differences in metabolism between different people, or the natural fluctuations in your energy expenditure across the days and weeks. Wouldn’t it be much more powerful if you could work out yourself, through listening your body, what is the right amount of food for you? This may lead to eating less, but not so much less that you’re left feeling over-hungry or craving carbohydrates/sweets. If this sounds appealing to you, check out intuitive eating.

anti diet dietitian

In addition to the omni-present influence of diet culture, three more specific reasons I frequently see for not eating enough during the day are…

Skipping breakfast – many people discover that when they eat breakfast, they feel hungry again sooner, often around mid-morning. When you’re trying hard to eat less/cut calories, this can feel highly problematic and so people delay eating as long as possible. However, feeling hungry roughly every 3 hours is completely normal and it’s a reason morning tea exists. Not eating enough earlier in the day is a common reason for over-eating later in the day.

Trying to be too healthy with food choices – carrots sticks and hummus may be perfectly tasty and nourishing, but if this doesn’t float your boat or doesn’t provide enough calories, you’re probably not going to be fully satisfied and you may find yourself craving sweets (usually as your brain actually needs glucose and is running low). If a snack of toast with jam or peanut butter, or perhaps cheese and biscuits not only appeals more to you, but provides the necessary food energy, you are going feel more satisfied eating this and you may well find yourself not craving sweets as your brain has the calories it needs. When you brain doesn’t have adequate food energy, it releases a chemical called Neuropeptide Y to make you think about food, specifically food it can get good amounts of glucose from as glucose is the brain’s preferred energy source. Therefore, so called “sugar cravings” can occur simply because you need to eat.

Cutting carbs – diet culture, including some well meaning doctors and other health professionals, tell us to cut out the carbohydrates. No bread, no rice, no pasta, no potatoes and sometimes even, no carrots, no pumpkin and no fruit! Aside from this being completely unnecessary, including for people with diabetes, such dietary restriction can lead to…

  • Strong sugar or carb cravings
  • Over-eating to the point of binge eating behaviour (often later in the day)
  • Mental and emotional distress over food, eating and body image
  • A preoccupation with food to the point of what can feel like an obsession or sense of being out of control around food (you are not obsessed or out of control, you just need to eat more – if the room you were in suddenly started running out of oxygen, your brain wouldn’t just sit there calmly, it would demand you find more oxygen and right now!)
  • Feeling tired and weak, having difficulty concentrating (your brain runs best on a ready supply of glucose)
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Constipation

If any of this resonates with you, perhaps it’s time to stop restricting food and stop following someone else’s specific advice on what, when and how much to eat and time to start tuning into, and trusting, your own body with food. You can learn to do this through a non-diet/intuitive eating approach that is fully aligned with Health At Every Size®️. You can book with us, or a find a practitioner near you.

 

dietitian melbourne

 

 

 

 

Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out
.

Want to learn how to nourish your body without dieting or restricting food?
Learn about intuitive eating with our ebook Nourish.

Click the banner to grab your copy today!

non-diet dietitians Melbourne

 

Want to avoid feeling stuffed full this Christmas? It’s time to stop trying to “be good”.

Do you tend to overeat on Christmas Day? What if I told you the problem is not you or the food, the problem is diet mentality.

If you happen to eat more than usual on Christmas day (or any other gathering for that matter), you are behaving as humans have done for thousands of years where having an abundance of food on celebration days is part of how we celebrate and connect with others. Bottom line is that there is nothing wrong with doing this and the pleasure and satisfaction we receive from sharing and enjoying food with others is fundamental to our health.

For some people though, Christmas day can feel like a minefield, creating anxiety and distress around food and/or leave you feeling so stuffed full, the pleasure is diminished. While for some there will be other factors involved, I am going to put a huge chunk of the blame on diet culture and its obsession with “health” and weight.

We live in a diet culture where thinking about food in terms of macros (carbs, protein, fat), moral value (being good or bad) and our body size has become some normalised, few people stop to recognise the madness and futility behind it all. Even for those not dieting (or following “healthy lifestyle plan”), this creates a diet mentality where food is seen as good or bad, right or wrong, healthy or unhealthy and the belief that how we eat is the key driver for our body weight (tip – your body weight is much more complex than the food you eat). There’s a constant sense we must make the “better” choice, not eat too much, and if we do, we must pay a penance with more exercise, or being “good” the next day. Paradoxically, it is this very diet mentality that results in people overeating on days such as Christmas or any celebratory party.

intuitive eating dietitian

So why does our diet culture and diet mentality lead to overeating?

It is pure human psychology to desire more what is off limits or forbidden. Deprivation heightens our desire and we are more likely to think about and crave those foods that we restrict. How often do you find yourself carving lettuce over chocolate? On that point though, just as it is natural to want something more when it’s less available, most people have had the experience of craving salad after several days of eating out with richer food or more highly processed food – so it works both ways.

Do you routinely restrict food you enjoy? When that food becomes available, are you more likely to go to nuts and “splurge”? If you’re nodding your head, you are a normal healthy human. This type of behaviour is known as the “I’ll get while I can effect”, “the what the hell effect” or “the last supper effect” where you think “I’m just gonna write off today and I’ll be good tomorrow/starting Monday”. These effect are described in studies in a number of books including Health At Every Size by Linda Bacon.

You may also fall victim to the “I deserve it” mentality – “I’ve been good lately so now I can afford to have as much as I want!”

The paradox with all of this, is that you usually end up eating more than you actually want, not truly enjoying the experience and perhaps even regretting it, swearing off the food again… until the next time.

What it you took a more relaxed and less restrictive approach to how you eat? Imagine feeling you could eat whatever you feel like whenever you felt like it? Maybe sweets would become less enticing – if you like sweets, this doesn’t mean you’d stop wanting or enjoying them, it would just mean you could them in a way that felt good mentally and physically. While all this may sound like pie in the sky stuff (my clients often say this when we first meet), you can find this place of moderation with a non-diet/intuitive eating approach. The key is to start understanding how diet culture has influenced our thinking around food in a way that has us feeling we can’t control ourselves around food and therefore we must restrict the food when in fact it is this very restriction and way of thinking that is so often at the root of your struggle with food.

dietitian melbourne

 

 

 

 

Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out
.

Want to learn how to nourish your body without dieting or restricting food?
Learn about intuitive eating with our ebook Nourish.

Click the banner to grab your copy today!

non-diet dietitians Melbourne