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How to break free from comfort eating & other numbing behaviours

My breast cancer story by Emily Turnbull at energise with emily Energy Coach Personal Trainer Wellness Blogger2

Here’s a scenario for you…you’ve had a stressful day at work, you got stuck in traffic on the way home, your cleaner called in sick so you get home to a complete mess and you get a text saying your online food shop will be arriving hour late, meaning you have next to nothing in for dinner. Aaagh!

It’s on days like these when the lure of a large glass of wine (heck, maybe even a bottle) or a king size chocolate bar becomes irresistible. Even if you can steel yourself against those temptations, how easy is it to slip into binge watching rubbish television or mindless social media scrolling or going online to buy something you don’t need?

On days like these – or any time you experience difficult situations, people or emotions – it’s human nature to want to take the discomfort away. You want to numb yourself from uncomfortable feelings, because it often feels easier than actually dealing with them. We all do it from time to time – myself included – so you are definitely not alone.

The most common numbing behaviours that I’ve encountered over the years are eating unhealthy food (especially chocolate and crisps), drinking alcohol, watching rubbish tv and mindless social media scrolling. Many of my clients have struggled with these patterns of behaviour, without realising that they’re often doing it as a way of numbing themselves from something that’s upset them or made them feel stressed. As a recovered bulimic, I know all too well the numbing effects of food.

The biggest problem with numbing is that it only ever provides a temporary escape. Numbing doesn’t allow you to deal with your feelings. It doesn’t allow you to fully explore what’s made you feel like you do and it usually leads to bottling things up. And things that get bottled up, eventually explode (trust me, I’ve done this many times!).

Numbing can also make you feel worse about yourself. When you eat a king size Mars Bar or drink half a bottle of wine, you’ll probably berate yourself or feel guilty or ashamed. When you add those negative feelings into the mix with the earlier, unresolved feelings, it doesn’t make you feel good about yourself.

Numbing is also very de-energising – physically, mentally and emotionally. No one feels like they have more energy after they’ve slumped on the sofa, with a large glass of wine and bowl of crisps in hand, for a binge watch of Love Island. Those unresolved feelings (and any accompanying guilt/shame/negative self-talk) could also interfere with your sleep and affect the way you connect with other people, such as being crabby with your kids or partner.

So, how do you stop yourself from falling into the trap of eating a kingsize Mars Bar or wasting half an hour on mindless Instagram scrolling when you’re feeling stressed or upset – or just plain tired.

The first step is to pause and acknowledge how you’re feeling.

Using a statement such as “I notice that I’m feeling upset and stressed” is helpful as it provides an observational quality to how you’re feeling. This can help you move through your feelings more quickly, instead of getting stuck in a mindset of being stressed and upset.

You might also find it helpful to notice any physical sensations in your body. You might feel a tightness in your throat or your tummy. Your shoulders may feel tense. Just notice how your body feels.

Then it’s a case of deciding how you’re going to respond. That’s right, you actually get to choose!

Your feelings do not have to determine what you do – they will only do so if you allow them.

This step may feel hard to begin with if you’ve fallen into some bad habits, such as comfort eating when you’ve had a stressful day. But your perseverance will pay off.

The next step is to make a conscious choice to do something to help you process your feelings or give you some headspace so that you can come back to them a bit later. I like to call these options Turning In or Time Out.

Turning In is where you do something in that moment to help you process your feelings. This could be writing them down, talking to a friend, going for a walk or using techniques such as meditation or EFT (otherwise known as tapping).

Time Out is where you take a bit of time out to do something just for you. It can be either relaxing (listening to music or reading) or energising (doing some exercise or preparing a healthy snack). You may find that as you relax or do some exercise – or afterwards – you’re able to look at what’s happened or how you’re feeling with a different perspective. The feelings may become less intense or you may find you can let them go more easily.

Whether you choose to turn in or have some time out, it doesn’t have to take long – 5-10 minutes can be really beneficial. You don’t want your choice to feel like another pressure or that’s it adding to your stress levels. Think about what makes you feel better and what feels easy.

The point is not to transform you into a completely relaxed, carefree version of yourself – although the more often you practice these techniques, the calmer you will feel. What you’re aiming to do is to break the pattern of numbing behaviours, with a different mindset and better choices.

When you’ve had a really stressful day or someone or something has upset you, self-care and self-compassion is so important. So often we forget that this is what we really need. So light a candle, take a bath or or go for a walk – make a choice to do something that makes you feel nourished and cared for. The sort of thing a good friend would tell you to do.

Need some help?

If you’re struggling with unhealthy habits, I can help you.

If you know you need to make some changes, but you don’t know where to start and you don’t want to go it alone, I’m here for you.  Book a free discovery call 

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