Comfort eating

Dear Dr Gray,
I think I’m a comfort eater. Whenever I am feeling depressed or anxious I reached for the biscuits (or crisps!). It is usually worse during the evening and whilst watching tv I can sometimes eat a whole packet of biscuits without realising. I am putting on a far amount of weight as a result which is making me feel more depressed which of course makes me what to eat more.
Jessica – Marylebone

Dr Gray Replies……..

Dear Jessica
Many of us turn to food when we are feeling depressed and anxious because it offers some short term comfort (hence the label ‘comfort eating), it can feel like a treat and when we are feeling unhappy or unsettled treating ourselves feels like the right thing to do. However what this type of eating does is allow us to zone out, for the time we are eating we can feel almost detached from our problems, this temporary reduction in awareness is why you find you can eat a whole packet of biscuits without really noticing. The other downside of this type of eating is that it only helps in the short term, it doesn’t help us to resolve the source of the depression or anxiety and it creates a second source of depression and anxiety, increased weight.
I would suggest that you seek some therapy to explore what underlies your feelings of depression and anxiety and then work with a therapist to resolve the problem. In the meantime try to follow a balanced and complex carbohydrate based diet of 3 meals and 2-3 snacks, spread evenly throughout the day to stabilise your blood sugar levels as unstable levels (i.e. dips and spikes) can exacerbate cravings for sugary foods and also feelings such as depression and anxiety.
The British CBT & Counselling Service has a centre for therapy in Marylebone, London and offers appointments with Clinical Psychologists and Counselling Psychologists trained in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which has been shown to be very effective with both comfort eating and depression and anxiety.

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