With the cold, wintery months fast setting in, there’s nothing more appealing that curling up with a cosy plate of warming comfort food. The problem however, is learning how to enjoy these dishes and not berate ourselves after every time we indulge in our favourite meal time vices.
Mindfully eating well is a key part in living a healthy lifestyle - but so to is knowing and accepting that you might occasionally fall off the wagon. Balance is key and ultimately I’m a big believer in the age old saying of ‘everything in moderation’ - I mean, nobody wants to eat quinoa all the time.
To help us feel a little more happy and a lot less guilty about our daily dinner decisions, we caught up with food blogger and in-house nutritionist Jenna Zoe to see what emotional eating tips she had up her sleeve.
Step 1: Get real - you ARE going to indulge again
The biggest reason we are so messed up when it comes to indulging is that we compare ourselves to this societal ideal of someone who never indulges (a nonexistent scenario, by the way!). So every time we do indulge, we see it as falling short of perfection and then beat ourselves up. Recognising that indulging is a part of life (and a healthy one) is the best way to remove the stronghold that 'bad' food has you caught up in. When you're embarking on a new healthy way of eating, build in the indulgences - that way, you’re designing a realistic and rewarding plan you can follow for the rest of your life. I for example factor in two indulgent meals a week, even though I don't exactly know when or what they may be. I know they’re gonna happen and I appreciate that they feed my soul, so they’re equally important to me as my usual healthy meals.
Step 2: You can eat the comfort food – but sort out the feelings first
Enjoying your favourite splurge foods from time to time is not the same as wanting food to fill an emotional void inside. The first scenario is psychologically healthy, the second is not. When we eat to numb our feelings or distract us from what’s going on inside, the feelings don’t go away - we just delay them from setting in. The forgiving approach to healing this behavior is this: next time you’re driven to comfort eat, tell yourself you can do it as long as you take a little time to identify how you’re feeling first. Don’t be afraid to really feel your feelings, because that’s 80% of the work to healing them. If you get real with yourself, your intuition will probably tell you how to solve the problem right then and there. Once you’ve taken yourself through that process and given yourself time to connect with your emotional state, feel free to eat the comfort food (if you still even want it).
Step 3: Find your line in the sand
Yes, there are infinite ways to make traditional comfort foods in healthier ways nowadays. But it’s important to test out which of the ‘healthy versions’ still make you feel satisfied. When I was 18 I remember a nutritionist told me to swap my afternoon sweet treat with celery and houmous – and if what I really, truly craved was a brownie, I would eat the celery and houmous, feel unsatisfied, and then eat the brownie anyway. Now, if she’d told me I could have a few squares of dark chocolate, maybe that would have been more helpful. What I’m saying is here is experiment with how far you take the line before the treat stops feeling like a treat at all. If you love French fries SO much and can’t bring yourself to believe that baked sweet potato wedges come even close to them, that’s totally ok! You don’t have to trick yourself into liking any of the trendy swaps out there. Savour the real thing on special occasions and stick to other healthy things you actually enjoy the rest of the time. You might find on the other hand that you’re totally happy swapping wheat pasta for spiralized zucchini, without any difference to your craving satisfaction – so do that with abandon.
Step 4: When you indulge, make it special
If you decide you're going to eat your favourite food, make a big deal of it. Don't unceremoniously scoff it standing over the kitchen sink so that it feels like it almost didn't count. Plate it on the nice crockery, set the table, light some candles even. Do whatever it is that enhances the specialness of it for you. Honour that food for it’s life-giving properties and remember that sometimes food is just food. It’s not a measure by which we should compare, validate or judge ourselves. Yes, sometimes it’s just there to be enjoyed and nothing else.