Finding comfort in food is natural and understandable.
We humans use food to symbolize our love and care for one another.
We offer food in times of trouble, especially when we struggle with finding any other way to help and show we care.
We use food to symbolize happiness and celebration, too!
Food offers a sense of sharing, connection and belonging.
Food is meant to be enjoyed! Great pride, joy and love can go into the creation of so many meals we share.
No wonder we see it as a comfort!
Over the course of our life, we have learned to associate food with comfort.
We store all the comforting memories of food being used to celebrate or soothe.
When it comes to a certain part of our brain, the most primitive part, that association gets taken too far, and those memories become misused and overused.
When you find yourself reaching for those symbolic foods when there isn't friends or family gathering around you (that rich, creamy, heavy dinner dish or a particular type of cake, ice cream or chocolate)......you are more than likely stressed, anxious, or bored.
As far as your innate, ancient biology is concerned, those three things (stressed/anxious/bored) scream: UNSAFE.
You may not realize it or feel particularly unsafe, but it is definitely the conversation going on in a particular area of your brain (known as your lizard brain).
And holy shitballs, does that part of your brain want to keep you SAFE.
Safe means staying alive.
Survival is the number one concern here, and your history dictates that when you eat those comfort foods, you feel safe. Safe means your chances of staying alive are good. No threat to your existence when you are safe.
If you feel safe, this lizard brain calms down.
It goes like this: Stressed/bored/anxious - UNSAFE alert - panic to find SAFE - memory of comfort food bringing safe feeling - eat comfort food - UNSAFE alert dismantled - SAFE.
(Why does boredom signal UNSAFE? Because boredom is super uncomfortable for your brain and body, and uncomfortable equals unsafe. Uncomfortable equals something being wrong and therefore safety is at risk. We are not wired to feel bored as we are extremely creative thinkers. Relaxed is fine, but boredom means you aren't content with your current situation. Discontent means something is up and the body and brain goes on high UNSAFE alert!)
Sadly, having wonderful comfort food in such a situation is far from comforting, right?
So we become more uncomfortable, sending more UNSAFE messages. And so it goes.
How do we end this cycle of reaching for our favourited dishes when we really don't want to? How do we stop inevitably resenting the food that is meant to be loved and enjoyed?
Well, no amount of will power and denial of the need will end it.
You won't win that battle by just saying no.
Your instinct for survival will stomp all over your wish to not reach for that dish, leaving you feeling even worse and beating yourself up for being so "weak".
You need to work with, not against this lizard brain.
No amount of force will work (as you already know from experience).
We need to override the UNSAFE signal. We need to calm that lizard brain down! Essentially, we need to rewire our brain and let our more logical area step up and step in. Often.
We need to say the following words to ourselves (best out loud but may feel too weird!):
"You're safe, (say your name here)"
Say it a few times, with a pause in between to let it settle in.
The power of words is immense.
The power of simplicity is immense.
The power of repetition is too, so say these words all the time!
You will be amazed at how different you will feel.
Even when you don't really think you are unsafe, your lizard brain does.
You need to let it know that everything is A-okay.
Also, throw that part of the brain some gratitude.
It's just trying to help you survive and loves you to pieces.
(The flip can happen, too. You may feel safe, but the words "You're safe" may trigger the realization that you don't actually feel that way. And this can be scary.
All the more reason to keep repeating that you are.
A belief is simply a thought that you have thought over and over and over again.
So keep thinking: "You're safe". You will get there, I promise. )
You are using that logical part of your brain that realizes you are actually physically safe to communicate the safety message and soothe the more primitive part.
FYI: Initially, you may still carry on and devour that comfort food. And that's okay.
This rewiring takes time!
Want to know what else I do?
Super duper risking sounding like a total lunatic, but here goes:
I picture a lizard (my lizard brain) frantically darting around when I find myself overthinking, bored, or wanting to grab my "go to" comfort food.
I see him buzzing around looking for a place to hide, a familiar spot, somewhere that feels "safe".
Then I see him on a rock, finally standing still, with the sun warming him.
I see myself stroking him gently between the eyes, telling him that we're safe, and he slowly calms down and falls asleep, with a big smile on his face.
At this point, I can actually FEEL his sense of relief and calmness.
AKA, I feel relief and calmness.
And I created that all by myself.
I used another part of my brain, not something outside of myself.
Just me, my thoughts, my imagination.
You can do this, too.
It feel so great, you guys.
Empowering and liberating.
Building self-trust and self-belief.
There. Sharing that shows how much I care about you.
This also works for those times when you find yourself spinning with over analyzing, well...everything, right?
I did a video on that, here is the link:
SO! Go forth and calm that lizard brain of yours!
Find that comfort from your own words, stand in your own power, and save the comfort food for when it's time to share in the spirit it's intended for!
Trust in yourself and know that you are there for YOU.