The inevitable ‘new year new year’ drivel has officially stuck fast to the current echoes of mainstream media. Every other shamelessly click bait headline is designed to entice us into beating ourselves with a stick for failing to spend every waking moment on a treadmill. Firstly, I’ll draw your attention to the fact that -for various reasons which remain pretty obvious to me – New Year’s resolutions DO NOT WORK. No less than 88 per cent of them, in fact, say researchers at the University of Bristol.
Most successfully adopted new habits are done subconsciously and gradually, or as part of a general lifestyle change, heped along by an element of enjoyment. I’ve also been somewhat disturbed by a novel, ‘non-diet’ (but still diet) type of messaging that has seeped onto my radar and sits worryingly on the border between both ‘eat what you love’ and ‘don’t eat this and that’ camps. Much of this messaging seems to advocate keeping a ‘level head’ at mealtimes – keeping those pesky emotions at a safe distance from your portion sizes, god forbid we should comfort eat.
To some extent; I get it. Using food as a crux to squash or deny uncomfortable feelings isn’t exactly ideal – especially on a regular basis, and I can fully understand how the cycle becomes dangerous, leading to binge eating disorders and severe obesity – both of which can have long term implications for your health.
Having said that, if every second Wednesday you’re faced with the same shitty meeting with the same shitty boss and you give into the overarching urge to drink a pint of Ben and Jerry’s…. why the hell not? Last weekend I myself was experiencing somewhat of an emotional slump. A family funeral, extra work stressors and exhaustion had all taken its toll and come Saturday night, the only thing I could muster up the energy to do was… to my surprise, eat.
A turnout for the books given that for years my method of coping with any emotion was quite the opposite. My emotional turmoil couldn’t have come at a better time as a pre-booked meal at Soho establishment Balans Society on saturday evening provided the perfect opportunity for me to eat my feelings. And man did those feelings taste good.
Whilst my fellow diners at the adjacent table neglected their brioche burger buns and explained to dinner dates – through mouthfuls of wilted spinach – the finer details of their 2018 diets (yawn), I stocked up on the goods. The real goods. I’m talking meaty monkfish medallions, piping hot fish and chips, silken Bailey’s cheesecake, salted caramel ice cream e.t.c. e.t.c. Inevitably, after demolishing most of our impressive spread, it was somewhat of a challenge to lift my buttocks up from the padded seat, let alone walk the half a mile to the station. Nevertheless, as Will and I shared our grievances and I indulged in a fair few sniffles over comforting cakes and cocktails, I felt better. Much better.
Needless to say, the next day I was horrendously constipated and didn’t feel the need to be quite as overzealous as I was in my hour of need/feed. Obviously, I’m not advocating you all start piling into Balans Soho Society and ordering buckets of ice cream every time you hit an emotional crisis. But what I am saying is this: There is absolutely no shame in adhering to your body’s – and mind’s – needs. Especially, by the way, if like me you’ve been doing the total opposite for a very long time.
Sometimes, no amount of mindfullness mediation, visualisations or talking therapy can make those feeling easier to process. Even if a bowl of your favourite ice cream doesn’t make them fully go away, at least it grants you a brief spell of relief to feel something other than shitty. Which you well and truly deserve, by the way. It’s not just me that says so, either.
‘Comfort eating is essentially eating to soothe and comfort. Sometimes this can be a physical need for comfort; for example if you feel cold and tired and want hot soup, or you are tired and thirsty and want tea and cake, or you are hot and bothered and a nice cold beer, or ice cream really hits the spot. Thus is entirely normal and it’s nothing to worry about.
As for emotional contexts, Ursula advises that it’s only when food is your only coping method of choice that it may become a problem. ‘Everyone uses strategies to soothe and comfort and occasionally using food as part of a healthy repertoire is normal – for example, you need a bath and a takeaway sometimes and other times you’ll phone a friend and have a glass of wine,’ she says. ‘Always using food or only using food to soothe is problematic. It can often be linked back to childhood if food was used to reward or comfort. If food is your go to comfort then think about developing non food ways to meet your needs.’
And the post-meal guilt that conveniently comes a’knocking as soon as you put down your knife and fork? Ursula provides ample reason to tell that little devil exactly where to go.
‘If you eat a large amount of food as a one off episode nothing will happen apart from feeling uncomfortable,’ she says, ‘and hot. Your body is very able to deal with an overeating episode without causing weight gain. To gain weight you need persistent and consistent excess of energy’.
So next time you get some shit news/have a bad break-up/cock up badly at work; ask your brain and body what would ease the emotional beating slightly. If it’s going for a run, do that. If it’s watching back-to-back episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm, do that. And if it’s a sharing pack of Sainsbury’s freshly baked cookies…well, just make sure you save me one, yeah?