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Comfort Eating: Understanding its Causes and Effects on the Body

February 1, 2024
4 min 50 sec
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You know those deliciously tempting foods, like a greasy slice of pizza or crispy, salty snacks? They're the ones we often crave when seeking comfort. But there's more to it than just the taste.

Comfort eating happens when we turn to food for emotional comfort instead of physical hunger. It's like a big hug for our emotions, an escape route that allows us to focus on food instead of what’s really going on in our brain.  

What is comfort eating?

Comfort eating is when we eat food not because we're physically hungry, but because we want to feel better emotionally. Unfortunately, it’s usually not with carrots or water, but rather foods that are high in sugar and fat, like ice cream or pizza. 

But comfort eating is not actually about the food itself. It’s mostly psychological. When we eat for comfort, we're using food as a way to distract ourselves from negative emotions or situations. It's like a temporary escape from our problems. 

In the short term, it makes us feel better. However, in the long term, it can lead to weight gain and poor nutrition, which is why it's important to address the underlying causes of our munching, and give your brain healthy alternatives to that red velvet cupcake.

Comfort eating and brain chemistry

Our brains are like a flavor lab, creating different sensations when we eat. When we indulge in comfort foods, it's not really about satisfying our taste buds; it's actually about the chemical reactions happening in our brains. Our neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin, are responsible for those happy feelings we get from food. When you take a bite of your favorite food, your dopamine levels rise, leaving you feeling content and satisfied.

But here's the issue: emotional stress can throw off this delicate balance. When you're feeling down or anxious, your brain chemistry can go off-track. Stress hormones can disrupt the normal release and reception of neurotransmitters, leaving you craving a dopamine hit much more than in neutral, non-stressful situations. And since your brain knows that comforting foods are linked to a release of dopamine (and that feel-good sensation), that’s what it will go to when in stressful situations. 

Your brain is basically searching for a quick fix to fill the dopamine void left by stress.

So, next time you find yourself reaching for that piece of chocolate or that bag of chips, remember, you’re not actually hungry. It's your brain chemistry looking for a hit of dopamine. 

By understanding the connection between comfort eating and brain chemistry, you can start finding healthier ways to cope. The trick is to give your brain another way to release dopamine than unhealthy foods, and train it to look for those activities instead of immediately running to sugar and/or grease.

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Triggers and emotional factors in comfort eating

Stress, sadness and anxiety

Comfort eating can be triggered by various factors that influence our emotions and behaviors. Like we mentioned earlier, stress is a common trigger, where we turn to food to cope with the pressures and tensions in our lives. Feelings of loneliness, sadness, and anxiety can also lead us to seek comfort in food as a way to fill an emotional void or find temporary relief.

Nostalgia and past memories

Certain foods are associated with positive memories or nostalgic feelings from our past. It’s natural to turn to these foods to recreate a sense of comfort and familiarity. For example, maybe ice cream is emotionally linked to those trips to the amusement park with your dad every Sunday, and you’re looking for that warm, nurturing feeling again. 

Societal and cultural norms

In some cultures, food is deeply intertwined with social gatherings and celebrations. Certain foods are associated with happiness and family, like on Christmas, Thanksgiving or Easter. Of course you’re going to eat a little more at Christmas dinner, but is that third glass of eggnog really necessary? 

It's important to recognize these triggers to develop healthy coping strategies. Finding alternative ways to manage stress, such as engaging in physical activity, practicing relaxation techniques, or seeking support from loved ones, can help break the cycle of comfort eating. 

Self-hypnosis to control comfort eating:

Self-hypnosis can help you control our eating habits and make more conscious and healthy choices when looking for that dopamine hit. It induces a state of deep relaxation and focuses your mind on positive suggestions related to your eating choices.

With self-hypnosis you will:

  1. Identify the underlying causes of your comfort eating: comfort eating is often related to negative emotions, stress or even lack of awareness about what you are eating and why.

  1. Create positive affirmations and visualizations: you will learn to use positive affirmations related to your healthy eating habits. For example phrases such as "I enjoy healthy foods" or visualizing scenes in which you see yourself making healthy choices can train your brain to choose less caloric dopamine boosters. 

It is not just words, it is scientifically proven that self-hypnosis is a tool that works in promoting weight loss and improving eating habits. A study highlighted in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis revealed that participants who engaged in the regular practice of self-hypnosis experienced significant weight reduction compared to the control group.

Oneleaf's self-hypnosis app can help you say goodbye to comfort eating and reach your weight loss goals.

👉 Join our free 7-day trial and start your journey to a healthier, happier version of yourself.

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