By Linda K. Laffey, MFT

Feeding an emotional need with a tangible substance, such as food, is widely accepted in the modern world. Famous cooks have made a living from creating recipes for comfort food, after all. Moreover, it’s only natural to cater to cravings and reach for what you think you need.

The problem is that most of the time, this approach has you depending on unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Perhaps you feel stressed with household chores, so you reach for a handful of cookies. Or, the workday was frustrating, so you “reward” yourself by eating an entire frozen pizza.

It all sounds delicious, at first—but leaves you unsatisfied in the end. A better approach would be to find other ways to self-soothe without focusing on food. Not only will this help you to address the real problem, but it will support a healthier relationship with food.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Write a To-Do List

Although writing another list of all the tasks you need to accomplish might seem counterintuitive, approach this particular to-do list differently. Instead of jotting down daily chores, make a list of self-care activities that genuinely replenish you.

Much of the time, we reach for a sweet or salty treat or even flip through TV shows to find a reprieve from life. In reality, though, those activities don’t soothe you. Some chocolate or Netflix might “fix” the negative emotions for a few hours, but they still leave your emotional tank empty.

Instead of depending on superficial self-soothing modes, try to pinpoint what really does fuel you. Is it reading a book, playing an instrument, or even taking a walk? Write down as many of these activities as you can. During moments of frustration, you can pull out your list and choose a self-soothing activity that fits the moment.

Make Peace with the Past

No one is perfect; we all make mistakes. Still, some “flaws” seem like jagged pills to swallow. Ruminating on the past isn’t uncommon for many people, but it can be damaging to your overall wellbeing. That said, food is frequently a go-to comfort when the past feels overwhelming.

To help self-soothe without focusing on food, do what you can to make peace with the past. Whether it was eating two pieces of cake or yelling at your kids, forgive yourself.

Leaning on forgiveness will help take the sting out of past experiences and choices, which will also work to keep you from using food as a temporary emotional bandage. Rather than ruminating on what you did “wrong,” focus on moving forward into a bright future.

Depend on Nature

Spending time in nature has many benefits, including lowering blood pressure and boosting your mood. Plus, it’s often an essential way to get the proper amount of vitamin D that your body needs to regulate your feelings.

When you need to feel soothed, go outside and let nature do the work for you. It doesn’t matter if you live in a dry, dusty area, or your sidewalk is covered in two feet of snow. Nature’s benefits aren’t restricted by any climate.

Take a moment to focus on your breath when you’re outside. Let the experience comfort you and soothe you without having to depend on food or any other substance, for that matter.

Shift Your Mindset

People who have a complicated relationship with food tend to participate in diets. While dieting in itself is not inherently wrong, yo-yo dieting can harm your physiological and mental outlook.

Instead of hardcore dieting—and possibly “breaking” your diet in a tough moment—try to shift your mindset away from food.

For example, instead of strict dieting, try implementing portion control. Viewing food as either good or bad only makes food the enemy, when it’s honestly supposed to be for fuel and enjoyment. Leave the self-soothing to healthier distractions rather than making food such a significant game-changer.

Take the first step…

If you are ready to address a pattern of disordered eating or an eating disorder that may be negatively impacting your life, I would like to help. Please contact me via phone or email so we can discuss how we might work together to achieve your therapeutic goals as quickly and effectively as possible.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Linda K. Laffey, MFT

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