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Old 02-02-2011, 10:17 AM   #1  
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Default Is eating for comfort "wrong?"

Hello all,
I've been reading a lot of posts since starting maintenance in October. I've noticed that so many people feel that eating to comfort yourself is a bad idea (I gained 70lbs in depression eating after a tough adoption). Now that I'm at goal and have much healthier ideas about my body, I'm beginning to feel that food IS comforting once in a while. A cold day, chocolate (in controlled amount) after stress, etc...it seems to me that food, by it's very nature, comforts us. Tortillas always make me think of the grandma who taught me to make them. I'm trying to teach myself to eat ONE, be comforted by the thought of her watching over me, and not spiraling into a carb binge. Being Latina, I'm trying to figure out how to honor my culture and my personality by celebrating and loving food, but not being unhealthy about it. Food is not the enemy, in fact, it's a pretty good friend to our bodies when used correctly.

I know there's not one right or one wrong answer that applies to everyone - just want to know what works for YOU?
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Old 02-02-2011, 10:53 AM   #2  
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What works for me? I have no clue what works for me, I go through phases. Sometimes I can handle just one, sometimes just one sends me spiraling into a binge. Honestly, if you can control it I don't see a problem with comfort eating, assuming you're not doing it to avoid or take place of feeling or coping. I think its a pretty complicated thing for many people. I personally have kind of given up on figuring out why I eat for comfort sometimes and why it turns to binging at times. I think maybe like you're saying it's not as a complicated at I think and sometimes we just need to eat for comfort. Maybe that thinking it's "wrong" is what sends me to binging, I'm rebelling or something. All I do know is I wish I was one of those people that could just eat one and stop and be satisfied, maybe someday I'll get there.

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Old 02-02-2011, 10:58 AM   #3  
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I am struggling with this too.....I am at the point where I am scared to eat sometimes and yet I know that I HAVE to eat in order not to lose any more weight. I wish I could help you but I am in the same position myself.....
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Old 02-02-2011, 11:18 AM   #4  
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I know why you are using it, HatetheSweats, but the word "wrong" really, really, REALLY worries me, because it brings "right" and "wrong" into thinking about food, and discussions that become moralistic about food choices can lead to being self-righteous about one's own "right" choices & disdainful of others' "wrong" choices. (And if you don't believe me, go check out the threads people start about looking into shopping carts, or about hurtful comments they've heard from passersby when they are seen eating something.) Or we could beat up on ourselves for being bad girls & not being good, which isn't good for us, either.

But it does feel like a question of "wrong" or "right," sometimes, when we feel as if we've done wrong or behaved badly. Or when we feel guilty about eating something particular, which we believe or is widely judged to be a "bad" food or a bad, unhealthy behavior. And if that's what you feel, which I think it is, then that's exactly the right word to use.

And I can relate, as within my own experience, I will actually feel anxiety if, at a family dinner, I'm told there will be pierogies and kielbasa. I'm several generations away from having to work from sunrise to sunset in the buckwheat fields of the Ukraine, though, so I'm not looking for that kind of fuel every day. Really, it doesn't burn many calories to wheel around my Aeron a little & hit the keys on the Lenovo ThinkPad & maybe now & then pick up the phone. But heck, those are my family's soul foods, and no one was thinking about Dr. Atkins' edicts when they created the doughy, potato-stuffed pierogie fried in butter & sweet onions. What to do, what to do?

I say eat your tortilla in peace & think of your Grandma.

I also say there's comfort & there's comfort.

Back in 2009, when my father was dying slowly & painfully of stomach cancer, I moved in with my parents to help care for him toward the end. At night, we three would sit watching the TV. (Endless football games and "Two and a Half Men" reruns, which is what he liked.) And my mother would dive face first into bowls of ice cream, one after the other. I sat on my hands. I squirmed. I made myself a cup of tea. Maybe I ate an apple with a couple almonds. It was so, so difficult, but I knew I didn't want to add the burden of hating myself to my horror & grief. I did not want to eat for comfort, as my mother was doing. Was she wrong? No. I refuse to pass judgment on her. It helped her get through the long, drawn-out horror. But personally, I didn't want that for myself. Eating for comfort like that would be so very unhelpful, when my father's illness was making me understand what a precious gift good health can be. I wanted to live, and I didn't want to go through what I was seeing. So I made a different choice.

There's a clear difference in my mind between that kind of binge eating yourself into blessed oblivion -- and nibbling all day long at your desk because of the continual low-grade anxiety & stress caused by the workplace -- and an occasional, planned for, celebratory meal in which you eat the food that your family raised you on & that someone made for you with love & as her way of taking care of you. All different kinds of emotionally charged eating.

(Now if I can just convince **myself** of that, too, square up my shoulders, and face a pierogie at my family's Easter dinner in April with calm confidence, I'll be set.)

Last edited by saef; 02-02-2011 at 01:46 PM. Reason: It's "Two and a Half Men," not "Three and a Half Men." I hope that, while in rehab, Charlie Sheen will forgive me.
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Old 02-02-2011, 11:37 AM   #5  
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Does comfort eating always mean sad eating? I consider it "comfort eating" when I eat lots of goodies over the holidays - but thats because I'm happy and "comfortable" and celebrating with family. Plus, what I eat are usually yummy home-made goods that were made with love, even if they aren't healthy.

And I think SOME comfort-eating is okay when you've had a really LOOOOONG day, if you can keep it in control. Though I usually opt for a glass of wine in that situation.

For me, the bad scenario is when I eat something I shouldn't, not because I'm celebrating or stressed, but when I'm really SAD and down on myself about something... that is when I beat myself up afterwards, and that is what - for me - is unhealthiest.
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Old 02-02-2011, 11:52 AM   #6  
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I think that comfort eating is "wrong" if food is being used as a drug or as a substitute for something else. But like saef, I don't like the "right and wrong" idea.

Here is how it starts, in my opinion: We are children, and when we get upset or cry or get angry, our caregivers shove something in our mouth. It's like, "Here, don't cause a problem, just eat and shut up!"

We would be horrified to see a parent give their child alcohol, but we think it's normal to give a crying child a hunk of sugar.

Eating feels good because it does cause a shift in the body. Research suggests that it increases levels of a molecule called dopamine, which is also implicated in drug addiction. But eating is supposed to feel good--it's not abnormal. What is abnormal is that some foods trigger this more than others and start a cycle going. You might want to read THE END OF OVEREATING by David Kessler to learn more about this.

Anyway... Using food to stop uncomfortable feelings or to "get high" or to avoid issues soon becomes a very strong habit. Tough day? Reach for the goodies. You can see how some foods are more like drugs than others because of which ones people choose. Upset? Have a can of tuna! Right.

I guess the question that needs to be asked is, "Why am I eating this?" Is it because I'm sad, mad, glad, afraid, angry, etc.? Is it because I am hungry? Is it because other people are eating and so I want to, too?

These questions are always worth considering. You may decide to eat a food or not, but I think it helps to be clear on why.

Jay

Last edited by JayEll; 02-02-2011 at 11:53 AM.
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Old 02-02-2011, 12:08 PM   #7  
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I agree with what has already been said. There is comfort eating, and then there is comfort eating. There is also comfort food, which may or may not be involved in comfort eating.

For example, when it's cold outside, I tend to crave comfort foods -- chili, soup, mac & cheese, pot pies, something warm and filling. I am probably not in any sort of negative state of mind, I just like to eat something warm when it's cold. Typically in these situations I cook a "light" version of comfort foods and eat it with zero guilt. I treat special holidays similarly and feel no guilt for eating holiday foods on those particular (infrequent) days. I think this is probably the situation with your grandma's tortillas.

On the other hand, a couple weeks ago I had a stressful week at work and when I got home all I wanted was alcohol and chocolate. Those are not comfort foods, but I wanted to eat them to comfort myself. In those situations I think it is better to avoid eating it, or have a very controlled portion. It's true that occasionally eating those things does make me feel better, for a while at least. But overindulging would make me feel even worse. It's kind of like Saef was saying -- if I overindulged, then I'd end up being stressed from work, AND being stressed because I felt fat.
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Old 02-02-2011, 01:34 PM   #8  
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I don't think it's wrong, as long as you don't get out of hand. I had biscuits and gravy Sunday.....and birthday cake.....and ice cream LOL But it was one splurge day (Dads birthday) and I just decided to not count calories at all that day. They are very occasional days. I just make sure to stay strict on the normal days.....I'm not going to spend my Christmas feeling torutred by all of the yummy food around me. I'm gonna eat, but not go crazy.

Lets face it, food is enjoyable. Why is that wrong? I don't drink at all but just for an example, drinking alcohol is enjoyable to some people. Why? because it tastes good? I think not LOL More because it feels good I would assume. Just like delicious food makes us feel good sometimes. As long as they don't go overboard, it's ok.

"Everything in moderation" right?
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Old 02-02-2011, 01:43 PM   #9  
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Lots of exceptionally thoughtful, insightful posts here.

Specifically for me, JayEll's observation:

Quote:
Originally Posted by JayEll View Post
We would be horrified to see a parent give their child alcohol, but we think it's normal to give a crying child a hunk of sugar.
I have never, ever thought of this in those terms before. Thank you SO much for making me think about this in a different light. I don't have children of my own, but I do have nephews. And I was a child who was often medicated with sugar and fat.
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Old 02-02-2011, 01:50 PM   #10  
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Food in itself is nourishing and vital. And celebrating food and focusing on how it treats our bodies and gives us vital nutrients and that it is essential to life is an important aspect of having a healthy relationship with food. Eating slowly and reflecting on where our food has come from and eating foods slowly with thoughtfulness that bring us warmth and memories is a far cry from stuffing our faces as quickly as we can in response to an emotion we are trying not to face. I think your on the perfect track. Food is life source. And food has a long history before we eat it. And we all have long histories with food, some good that need cherished, and reflected on, and re-experienced. Others we need to forgive ourselves for and bury.

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Old 02-02-2011, 02:12 PM   #11  
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There are indeed two different conversations going on here - one about eating foods that evoke pleasant sensations like grandma or a cold winter night.

the other is about self-destructive behavior (eating, alcohol, take your pick) that go along the lines of self-medication with depression, anger, anxiety, etc.

I, for one, am not going to advocate for self-destructive behaviors. I would argue that one of the main outcomes of a weight loss journey for many of us is understanding and being able to tell the difference between the two when a situation arises.

Last edited by calluna; 02-02-2011 at 02:13 PM.
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Old 02-02-2011, 03:34 PM   #12  
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Proust had his madeleine, so frequently alluded to when we speak of foods (or smells, or any sensation) that bring us back to a feeling of home. A madeleine is a little cake-cookie, not a healthy food, but assuming he savored one (and the feelings it solicited) and didn't mindlessly scarf down an entire bag of them, the madeleine was certainly spiritually nourishing.

I do eat foods for comforting. Physical or spiritual nourishment is comforting. Stuffing my face with pizza is a distraction, not a comfort (though I may convince myself otherwise at the time). I rarely feel "comforted" after overeating unhealthy foods. Right now I am preparing a big pot of "comfort" food- I've been sick, and I'm making a garlic-chickpea-kale soup, which will be delicious and make me feel nourished and well-cared for (by my self!)

A grandmother's tortilla sounds spiritually nourishing to me. Do you still make them? Maybe you can make them and share the love, so you don't eat them all. Then you will be nourishing other people's spirits, too. A handmade tortilla is something special!
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Old 02-02-2011, 09:15 PM   #13  
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I would eat Grandma's tortilla with butter (& salt or honey depending on if I wanted savory or sweet) and be grateful for the memory. I have done this on several occasions. I would also take the occasion to note other experiences, carb reactions, weight fluctuations, cravings, etc...
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Old 02-02-2011, 10:03 PM   #14  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by calluna View Post
the other is about self-destructive behavior (eating, alcohol, take your pick) that go along the lines of self-medication with depression, anger, anxiety, etc.
Some people have a glass of wine to relax after a long day. I wouldn't necessarily call that self destruction....although like I said I don't drink ever for personal reasons. But I hear alot of people say they have a drink to relax occasionally and I don't consider that an awful thing. It makes them feel better, like food does sometimes.....that was my point.
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Old 02-02-2011, 10:49 PM   #15  
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Oh, you guys are fan-flipping-tastic! I will write more later when ive digested all of your wise words, but I didn't want to go to bed without saying how wise and brilliant you all are.

Last edited by hatethesweatpants; 02-02-2011 at 10:50 PM.
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