Likely, if you’re reading this, you’ve (at one point) been on a diet. More than likely, you’ve tried several. And let me guess: when you’ve been following the diet, you’ve got great results, but then, for some reason, things change? I can see you nodding… (not literally, because that would be kinda weird… and stalkerish).
The thing about diet and exercise plans is that they can be a double-edged sword. The stricter you are, the faster you’ll get the results you want. The problem is, more often than not, you have no life and are left mentally and physically exhausted.
✅Pro: get results❌Con: have no life & are mentally exhausted
To be always strict and in control is a full-time job in itself. And like any job, sometimes we make mistakes. Eventually, we ‘slip’ and eat something that isn’t on our ‘diet approved’ list.
Now you’re probably thinking, ‘What’s so wrong with having a cookie or two to make yourself feel better?’ If you are, then now’s a good time to understand the difference between doing things to comfort ourselves versus to numb ourselves.
Let me take you back a few years while I was doing my master’s degree. These were some of the toughest years of my life so far. I was often in a really bad binge cycle, meaning I just went for days on end being out of control with my eating. During this one particular cycle, I was so desperate to have it stop. So I told myself to find a distraction: just use the money I would have spent on the binge on something lovely for myself instead.
So I took myself shopping. But, just like I couldn’t control my binges, I couldn’t control my shopping either. I bought so much that I couldn’t even carry it. I spent $2200, and remember, this was fifteen years ago and I was a student. Meaning I spent what I didn’t have. But I was a robot on autopilot. I didn’t even enjoy the experience; I just felt . . . numb. And you know what the sad part is: I never wore anything I bought and I still binge ate that evening.
So you’re probably wondering, how is comfort shopping any different? Or better? Especially when you don’t have the money to spend in the first place? Well, compare the above example to the one below.
I’m not sure if you know this about me yet, but I really, really love to shoe shop. And yes, sometimes I shoe shop to make myself feel better. The great thing about shoes is that no matter how you’re feeling about your body, you can, more often than not, find a pair of shoes that fit. Here’s a pair of shoes I bought about a year ago.
On that day I was feeling really frustrated and overwhelmed so I decided to go for a walk and window shop (because we all know how that goes!). I found these shoes. They sparkled and shined and literally brought an immediate smile to my face. When I tried them on they literally nourished my body from the ground up. They gave me a comforting hug. Could I afford them? Hell no. But did I buy them? Hell to the yes! And here’s the clincher, I’ve worn them many, many times.
So, as you can see, there is a big difference between doing something for comfort and doing something to numb. The reason why I bring this up is because all of us use the term ‘comfort eating’ but how comfortable do we really feel both during and after the experience? About as comfortable as wearing Spanx to a buffet.
So when it comes to triggered behaviours, it’s really important to recognise the difference between the two, so I’ll give you some tools to help.
Numbing and Dementors
When we think about numbing, we often go straight to the most ‘obvious’ things like alcoholism and drug addiction. To quote Dr Brené Brown, a leading shame researcher,
‘Just because our choice of numbing doesn’t have a meeting or a support group to join and we can get away with it . . . doesn’t mean it’s not changing the quality of our life’.
Numbing behaviours are those that may make you feel good at the time, but also suck the life out of you. They leave you numb, empty and void of feeling. It’s like being next to a Dementor. Remember the scary things from Harry Potter that drain every good feeling out of you? These are your numbing behaviours.
I know this is cliché, but I’d like you now to think of a few examples of what you do to numb yourself.
Comfort and Super Mario
Remember Super Mario? The Nintendo game? When Mario went over a mushroom he grew in power, right? What are the things that do that for you? What are the behaviours that make you feel recharged and rejuvenated after you’ve done them? Like you’ve discovered Mario’s mushroom? These are your comfort behaviours.
Again, take a second and think of a few examples.
Now, you’re probably thinking I’m going to tell you to stop doing the numbing things and do more of the comforting things, righto? Wrongo.
Because here’s the thing: if it were that easy, you would have done it already. If the ‘do this, not that’ method actually worked, we wouldn’t have a multi-billion-dollar weight loss industry.
What I’d rather you consider is, what is the difference between the thoughts and feelings that prompt you to choose either a comfort or numbing behaviour? To give you a hint, the difference between the thoughts and feelings that prompt you to choose either a comfort or numbing behaviour, is how you answer this question: ‘Am I enough?’
Deep, I know.
Now don’t worry if you don’t know the answer, because it’s the kind of question that is meant to make you think. But, if this content really resonated with you and you’d like some help getting back in control of your emotional eating, do check out my emotional eating course here.