Over eaten during lockdown? There’s a simple trick to getting back in shape
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Christine Webber has had plenty of dealings with problem eaters over the years - and has one great bit of advice if you’ve piled on the pounds during lockdown
“I hope I can still get into my business suit.”.
Have you said that recently? Or are you secretly worried about a function that’s happening soon and wondering if the outfit you want to wear will be too tight.
Lockdown has a lot to answer for! And one of those things is the increase of comfort eating in the population, because so many of us have turned to chocolate, biscuits and take-aways to ease our anxiety.
Over my years practising as a therapist, I saw dozens of adults who indulged in comfort eating so I thought I’d discuss the topic this week.
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Now, what do you imagine all these people had in common? The answer is that none of them actually found comfort eating very comfortable at all! Why? Because frankly, such comfort as there was, was very short-lived. And afterwards, they tended to feel miserable rather than cheered up.
One of my patients admitted that her pleasure was confined to the brief moment when she had the very first chocolate in her mouth. As soon as she had swallowed it, she was filled with regret. But she kept on eating till she emptied the box in the hope of regaining that magical moment. That’s awfully sad, because what happened to her was that regret turned to self-loathing. And that’s not just uncomfortable it’s downright distressing. Also, she was four stone overweight, and was seriously compromising her health.
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Now I don’t suppose you’ve reached that stage, but if you’ve used food to dull the pain of the current crisis, you may want to think of ways in which you could break the habit as we begin to return to something like normality.
Trust me, comfort eating causes more problems than it solves. So, it’s better to come up with ideas which will provide you with genuine peace and contentment, but not pile on the pounds.
Of course, the reasons people are unhappy and looking for something to ‘make it better’ are complex.
I remember a male patient who had a very critical mother. He always felt put down by her during their regular phone calls and routinely raided the bread bin, often eating an entire loaf, after their conversations.
Another client had the boss from hell, and her way of coping was to come home and ‘reward’ herself by tucking into a super-size pizza. And a third person, a divorced woman, felt that her existence was solely about looking after everyone else, and that her own life was on hold. Her only enjoyment as she saw it was to be found in a tub of ice cream which she would eat, standing at the freezer door, once she had put her kids to bed.
You can doubtless see that all these individuals were trying to use food to console themselves in the hope that their problems would somehow melt away. Did that work? No. The mother remained a pain. The boss was still a nightmare. And the divorced woman’s life continued to feel that it was on hold no matter how many tubs of Ben and Jerry’s she demolished.
We all have stuff in our life that we know we should alter. However, we don’t tend to sort it when we’re feeling down or out of control. But once we rid ourselves of the idea that food is the best way to improve our lot, we’re usually in a better place to work on the changes we need to make.
I encouraged my clients to come up with enjoyable strategies of their choice that would help them. Some of those I remember were to take up running, ring a friend, Skype with their family, have a major spring clean, write a diary, do tapestry and get an allotment.
One client though came up with something staggeringly effective which was very simple indeed. Her eating had been seriously out of control. She would have supper but then nibble snacks in a bid to occupy and cheer herself up for the rest of the evening. She elected to break this cycle by brushing her teeth right after her meal, rather than wait till bedtime.
This basic change seemed somehow to switch her mind and her tastebuds off food and free her up to do a range of activities in her leisure time. I recall she studied for an Open University degree in the end and as a result was able to get a better job which solved many of her previous difficulties. It’s fantastic how something so straightforward can improve someone’s life dramatically.
Hopefully, we’re going to stay out of lockdown now, so perhaps you can put your Covid-19 comfort eating behind you and seek consolation instead in ways that will be good for your health. I’m not saying it will be easy. But it is doable. Good luck!