03 Sep 2021
In our advice column, a reader wonders if there’s such a thing as too much comfort food in a pandemic.
This pandemic has been stretching out for so long that the days, weeks, and months are blurring into each other. It’s been incredibly difficult to get out of bed most days, and the only thing that comforts me is eating. Chocolate, pizza, biryani, sour candy, sausages. Anything I can eat quickly by opening a bag, reheating, or ordering online. Sometimes I cook, but I can totally eat an entire bag of potato chips and call it a meal. There have also been weeks where I order food up to four times a day. This can’t be good for my body.
My question is, is this comfort eating? Or is it some kind of food disorder? I’m honestly not fussed about my weight but I am wondering about my health. Please help me figure out what is going on.
(Literally) Eating My Feelings
I’m so grateful that you reached out. It definitely feels like the light at the end of the tunnel gets simultaneously dimmer and brighter as time goes by in this pandemic. While food-related, this is very much a mental health issue. So I took the liberty of consulting a professional: Patience Chen, a licensed and registered counselor.
“To qualify as an eating disorder, there are criteria that need to be met. The main trait of eating disorders is that it involves the relationship a person has with their image,” says Patience. “My sense is that comfort eating in a pandemic has more to do with anxiety, as it is a way to cope.”
So to address your worry: it’s likely that what you’re going through is not an eating disorder, especially since you are not concerned with your weight. Unfortunately, it is probably a symptom of anxiety. Self-soothing behaviours differ for people (I personally am able to sleep 14 hours a day). You perhaps may be asking yourself, “Am I beating myself up? Am I making myself feel guilty for using this method to soothe myself?” Nobody can decide for you what is or isn’t an excuse. It’s a conversation you need to have with yourself, a compassionate friend, or a qualified therapist about what you need.
One of your main concerns seems to be that you are not eating enough nourishing food. The way I see it, self-compassion here is then two-pronged: Yes, eating nutritionally balanced meals is taking care of yourself. But eating a bag of chips for a meal because you’re stressed is also taking care of yourself. Both acts nourish yourself in different ways, and there is nothing inherently wrong with either.
Patience suggests a way forward, a method called ‘solution-focused therapy’. It’s not about thinking of new solutions, but rather considering what has worked for you before. For example, if you’ve had success calming your anxiety by dancing to music videos, or painting with watercolours, those activities can be added to the list, along with eating.
Or if you’d like to stick with food, think about what food items make you feel better, really better, hours from now. A whole pint of ice cream is a great idea in the moment, but perhaps not later during a sugar crash. Your food intake can be recorded in a diary—not to shame yourself, but simply as data to analyse. You may then realise that you’re eating a lot healthier than you think you are. You may not. But it gives you a real starting point.
I highly recommend to speak to a therapist to assess your issues in more detail. In any case, I wish you a healthy body, mind, and spirit.
Send in your cooking questions or cooking-adjacent life questions to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line ‘Eat Your Feelings’.
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