Comfort eating is one of the main reasons people tell me they can’t follow a healthy diet. The day starts with good intentions but by night-time whole tubs of ice cream or large packets of crisps have been consumed.
There are good physiological reasons for this common problem. The issue is complex but here are just 3 reasons that could explain why your body seeks comfort from food ….
Your blood sugar is unbalanced
Your blood sugar is on a rollercoaster ride. You’ve half-starved yourself, skipped meals or drank coffee or tea all day long. It’s because you’re busy or you’re trying to ‘diet’ – either way you are setting yourself up to fail. Skipping meals, or not eating enough protein and fat (yes, fat!) or relying on stimulants and salad leaves to get you through the day leads to peaks and troughs in blood sugar balance. It is when blood sugar levels fall (after your evening meal? Mid-afternoon?) that you are more likely to eat something sweet or starchy just to bring levels back up again. If you are patient with yourself blood sugar imbalances can be easily remedied. Eating regular meals and snacks – ALL containing good protein sources and a little good quality fat as well as limiting sweet, starchy and caffeine rich food and drinks will put you on the right path. If you still find you struggle with blood sugar dips then chances are you have a key nutrient deficiency or a food intolerance. Either of these factors will make it difficult for you to maintain stable blood sugar levels.You can check for food intolerances with a pin prick sample by post.
Your serotonin or dopamine is low
Another good reason comfort eating gets the better of us is due to low serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter which helps us to feel happy and relaxed. Comfort-eaters tend to be deficient in this. This leads us to seek pleasure from foods, specifically starchy foods. Serotonin also helps with the feeling of satiety – knowing when to stop eating.
Low serotonin is sometimes due to a deficiency of Zinc and B6. A simple deficiency in these key nutrients could explain the prevalence of low-mood and the high reliance on SSRI antidepressants that is common in the UK. It might also explain why so many of us fail to stick to weight-loss diets.
Another way that serotonin production can be depleted is by poor digestive health. The majority of serotonin is made in the gut and repeated bouts of antibiotics, food intolerances and IBS can all impact on our mood via lowered serotonin production.
Dopamine is another neurotransmitter that could be lacking when we comfort eat. Eating sugary or starchy foods, as well as smoking, drinking coffee and taking drugs all stimulate our reward pathway in our brain. That is why we feel compelled to repeat behaviours we know are bad for us. The problem is the more we stimulate this pathway the less the body self-regulates and so more and more of our ‘bad’ habit is required for the same response. This could explain why comfort eating is such a difficult habit to break.
Your fat levels are wrong
Good levels of omega 3 fatty acids can help you to have better dopamine signalling in the brain. It’s important to get the right ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 in the diet. You also need to eliminate trans fats found in margarine, vegetable oils and fried foods as these fats seriously impact the brains ability to send appropriate signals. You also need to stop relying on seeds to provide omega 3 fats. The omega 3 in seeds needs to lengthened to be used by the body, if you have nominal levels of zinc or magnesium this just won’t happen. You need omega 3 from fish, algae or krill to really get those brains signals flowing.