Can Comfort Eating Equal Healthy Eating?

Today is Comfort Food Day. I was eager to write a post about it because I think the idea of eating for comfort has a very bad rap. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that I think eating for comfort can be a very important part of healthy eating. I actually talk about this quite a bit as I’m counseling clients in my office. I frame it in the context of “eating with emotion” vs. emotional eating. Let me explain with a personal story. 

I love chocolate — like, a lot. I especially love German chocolate. OK, to be more specific I love Milka Schoko and Keks and I love the Butter Biscuit by Rittersport. As luck would have it, Trader Joe’s sells those Rittersport bars at a very reasonable price. I typically have at least one back up bar in my treat bowl at home (yes, another reveal, I have a treat bowl at home).

A couple of weeks ago I arrived home after an unusually full day at work. I sat down to a meal that was just what I needed on a cold, rainy evening. I was tired and hungry and couldn’t wait to eat. After I finished my meal I started to think about my Butter Biscuit waiting for me in the treat bowl. I got all excited knowing that it was just what I wanted to finish my meal. I broke off a line of chocolate and noticed that I was eating it with tremendous delight. The chocolate was making me quite happy, warm and fuzzy, and it felt very comforting as the stress of my day began to dissipate.

And that’s when I started to think about the difference between eating with emotion and emotional eating. I talk about emotional eating most days with my clients, and I can assure you that there is a difference!

Emotional eating has a few particular qualities:

  • It is used to cover up, diminish, numb or avoid challenging emotions.
  • It happens with great speed and little pleasure. It goes in the mouth and down the hatch before you can savor a single bite.
  • It leaves you feeling physically unwell after you have eaten.
  • It creates disconnection with yourself.
  • It is often followed by guilt, remorse and shame.

Now what I described above is light years away from eating with emotion, which includes:

  • getting super-excited to eat a meal you love or try a new restaurant you’ve heard friends raving about
  • eating things that are super yummy and satisfying
  • eating that comforting bowl of chicken noodle soup when you’re feeling down

Eating with emotion leaves you feeling physically satisfied and content and emotionally balanced, even happy! Eating with emotion is done with intention and mindfulness. 

So when was the last time you ate with emotion? When was the last time you chose to eat something that felt incredibly comforting? If it’s been a while, I hope you’ll give it a try today and moving forward. You may be surprised, but your health will thank you for it!

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Marci Evans
Marci Evans, MS, CEDRD-S, counsels clients and manages her group practice in Cambridge, MA. She also brings her passion and skill in the eating disorders field to students, interns and clinicians with online trainings and clinical supervision. Connect with her at www.marciRD.com and all social media outlets @marciRD.