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5 MINUTE THERAPIST Why do I comfort eat?

christine_webber-33Welcome to Healthista’s first 5-minute therapy session with leading psychotherapist Christine Webber.  Each week we will bring you a new reader, a new problem and a new 5-minute solution in therapy.  Today, Christine talks to a reader who comfort eats in the evenings

‘Hello, Christine. I’m Lucy and I work in PR. I got married recently to my fantastic husband James. He’s a lawyer. I’m 30 and he’s 34.  I eat very little in the day – I don’t bother with breakfast and just pick up a latte at my local station around 7.30. I eat some fruit at my desk at lunchtime.  Other than that I only have black coffee and water till I get home.  But, my downfall comes in the evening. I get back to our house around 6.30, but James often works later. While I’m waiting for him, I start gorging on bread or chocolate, and can’t seem to stop. I think this must be some form of comfort-eating but I’m happy, so why do I do it?

Christine:  Hi, Lucy, well there are two things here. One is that you’re virtually starving yourself during the day. And the other is the comfort-eating when you’re alone. Shall we start with your diet during the day?

Lucy: OK. The thing is that in PR, people need to look good. So I try to cut down on calories during the day to keep my weight down.

Christine:  And is that working?

Lucy: No! But it probably would work if I was stricter with myself in the evenings.

Christine: Has it occurred to you that ‘being strict’ during the day is a major cause of your comfort- eating later?  You’re working long days, without adequate fuel for your body or your brain. This isn’t healthy. No wonder you have to make up the calories at night. Would you consider at least eating a bowl of porridge, or having a couple of boiled eggs in the morning?

Lucy: But I’m always in a rush.

Christine: You can cook and eat porridge in a matter of minutes!  You’re an intelligent woman; can you accept that having so few calories by day is one reason you’re ravenous later?

Lucy: I suppose so.

Christine:  OK, please tell me what goes through your mind when you get home and consider eating something?

Lucy: I suppose I say to myself: ‘I’ve been good all day … so I deserve it.’

Christine: You seem to use the word ‘good’ to mean ‘not eating.’ But is that ‘good’? Don’t you feel tired and hungry during the day?

Lucy:  Sometimes. In fact, my boss has complained about me making mistakes in the afternoons.

Christine: So, maybe starving yourself by day is not as ‘good’ as you thought. But tell me this: when you start ‘gorging’, do you feel that you are ‘bad’?

Lucy: Yes,  

Christine: But is it ‘bad’ to feed yourself sufficient calories to function properly?

Lucy: If you put it like that I suppose it’s stupid to do what I’m doing.

Christine: Listen, you’re not stupid. Loads of us have odd relationships with food at different times in our lives. Can you recall what you tell yourself right before you start ‘gorging’?

Lucy: Things like: ‘I feel lonely.’ Or: ‘I need cheering up’.

Christine:  Are you miserable when you get home?

Lucy:  It sounds pathetic, but when I’m there before James, it reminds me of when I was single and spent evenings alone. But I knew before we got married that he’d often have to work late.

Christine:  But even though you knew about his working hours, it seems that you feel distressed by them. Do you know why?

Lucy: I hadn’t thought about this before, but I suppose I thought married-life would be more like my mum and dad’s marriage. Dad gets home about 6.30 and they eat dinner and enjoy the evening together.

Christine:  But do your parents have the sort of careers that you and James have?

Lucy: No.  Dad’s a retail manager, and my mum’s a teaching assistant.

Christine: It seems to me that, realistically, your evenings and working patterns are bound to be very different from those of your parents.

Lucy: You’re right.

Christine: Do you and James have enough time together?

Lucy: Probably not as much as we’d like, but we do have longer – and more exotic – holidays than my parents, and we have great weekends.

Christine: You asked me why you comfort-ate? Can you see some of the reasons now?

Lucy: Well, I’m beginning to. Maybe I just have to focus on the good things in the marriage and stop resenting the fact that James and I have a different life from my parents.

Christine: That should help. Also, why not look at other ways of getting some comfort or cheer, that don’t involve eating?  What about catching up on Facebook? Phoning a friend? Pursuing a hobby? Or just catching up on the sort of TV you like but James doesn’t?

Lucy: I could do that.

Christine: After all, when you comfort-eat, how long does the comfort last?

Lucy: Not long. In fact I often hate myself immediately afterwards.

Christine: Well, will you try finding some comfort in other ways? But – as well as that – will you have a go at taking better care of your body and mind, by eating enough to function in a happier and more effective way?

Lucy:  I’ll give it a go. I understand now that I was using food to try to stop myself feeling lonely – and also that I probably don’t eat enough in the day.

Christine: Well, I think you’ve done some hard thinking during this 5-minute session. So, well done! Let me know how you get on.

Christine Webber is a former TV news presenter. Since 1995, she has been an award-winning health writer. She is also a psychotherapist with a practice in Harley Street. She holds diplomas in integrative psychotherapy and cognitive behaviour therapy. And she also has numerous coaching qualifications.  Christine is the author of 12 books, including How to Mend a Broken Heart available from Amazon in e-book format.  FInd out more at





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