Comfort eating – is it really that comforting?

by Annie Kaszina on December 15, 2006

Last week a client was
talking about how impossible she found it to give up sugary foods. In her time she had been a smoker and a
drinker and had managed to give up both of those addictions. Yet she felt she lacked the strength to ever
give up sweet things. 

Now, at the logical
level my brain refused to accept this. Alcohol and cigarettes have been shown to be seriously difficult habits
to kick. If she could successfully beat
those two addictions, overcoming a craving for sweet things had to be perfectly
possible. 

Still, it wasn’t about
my beliefs but hers and unless I could help her to change her belief about the
power that ‘sugar’ had over her, she would prove herself right. Because we always do; what the Thinker
thinks the Prover proves. This is why
we may not feel happy about our perceived limitations, but we sure are right
about them. 
(Without realizing it, we make ourselves right.)

 

S. ate for comfort. That comfort lasted as long as she could
taste the food. Virtually as soon as
she had swallowed the last mouthful the comfort would turn to shame and
self-loathing. 

(Not a brilliant result,
you might say, for such a common strategy. The only reason the strategy endures is because people believe that it
is the one and only strategy available to thm.)

S. ate sugary foods
because she didn’t know how else to comfort herself. Her life in an abusive marriage was hard. Her childhood had been hard. 

I found myself thinking
of my daughter’s early days at school. Some of the moms would turn up at the school gate with something sweet
that they ‘plugged’ into their little one’s mouth almost before they had
finished saying “Hello”. For a lot of
the kids chocolate was the all purpose placebo.  (Not for my poor kid. I
was po-faced about chocolate. But I
never wanted her to make the automatic association between sweet things and
comfort.)

When asked, S.
recognised that kind of pattern in her own life. Early on she had learned to administer sweet things to dull her
pain. What, she asked, was she to do
about it?

What, I asked, did she
do for her own children when they were distressed? She hugged them, gave them the Magic Kiss Better and told them it
would be alright. And did it work? I asked her. As anyone who has ever comforted a child knows, it usually
does. However desperate a child may be
feeling, some affection and reassurance will generally make all the difference.

How did that help her?

I suggested that, since
she had the resources she needed to bring comfort to her own children, there
was nothing to stop S., the loving, adult woman, comforting her own inner
child.

My ex-husband, Snarl,
always said – whether or not his opinion was requested – that simple techniques
like this were cr*p. Needless to say,
for him they would have been. What his
‘Thinker’ – in the loosest sense of the term –
thought his Prover delighted in
proving. And he remained a symphony of
resentful misery. It worked for him.

S. was more courageous
and open to healing. She agreed to work
through an exercise with me. In that
exercise she took her thoughts back to the earliest memory she could find of
feeling in need of comfort. She
visualized herself as that hurt needy child. Then she visualized the loving, adult S. bringing comfort to that child,
just as she comforts her own children. 

She took the time it
took to give that younger self the comfort she needed. Then she started working forward, one
incident at a time. The work started to
go faster. Nor did she have to work
through
every incident. Happily, the domino effect comes into play. Once you start collapsing some old hurt feelings, you’d be amazed
how others just fall down.

At the end of it she
felt quite differently about ‘sugar. It
had, she said, lost the magical powers with which she had previously credited
it. She had found a better way to
comfort herself and now felt able to care for herself by feeding her body
healthy food. 

S. was prepared to
experiment because she had nothing to lose and plenty to gain. 

The suffering of abuse
is a terrible thing. The ultimate abuse
is being led to believe that all the pain and the scars have to incapacitate
you for the longest time. Healing is
available and it can take place surprisingly fast, however dreadful the abuse
has been, as long as you have access to the appropriate techniques. Extending your love and support to your own
inner child is one of them.

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