When I was younger I was not an overly emotional person. Friends were amazed when I cried during my wedding vows, ‘the ice maiden has broken’ is one comment I remember from that day. And then of course I had kids and the floodgates opened. Now I’ll cry at the drop of a hat which makes watching TV in company problematic, even someone nailing their showstopper on Bake Off can set me off.
So this last year, with such loss and hardship all around, has, at times, been overwhelming. I don’t think we’ve ever been on such a collective emotional knife-edge and this has inevitably bubbled over into comfort eating and drinking. I may be a food and health writer, but I truly understand the joy to be found at the bottom of a bottle of Chablis or in a round of oozy Camembert.
Because food is such a psychological crutch it can prove a real barrier to achieving our health and weight loss goals - one minute we are filling our fridges with plant-based foods with which to nourish ourselves, the next we are ‘treating’ ourselves to all those things we know aren’t good for us. So how do we unpick these unhelpful food associations? Or rather, how can we retrain our brains not to divide foods into ‘good’ and ‘bad’. How do we shed our guilt around food and stop using it as a stick to beat ourselves with?
This is something I have probably spent far too long thinking about, and this is what I have surmised. The main reason people are overweight or comfort eat is not down to the foods themselves. Yes, we might call ourselves a chocoholic or a crisp addict, but it’s not the bag of Mini Eggs (or Easter crack as I call them) or the Kettle Chips that are to blame, it’s the relationship we have with them.
We put these foods on the altar of deliciousness. We have told ourselves so many times how much we love them that they occupy a place in our affections far higher than they actually deserve. It’s the forbidden fruit syndrome – the more we tell ourselves we ‘shouldn’t’ eat them the more desirable they become.
Let’s strip all that away.
Pretend for a moment that you can eat Mini Eggs at any time of the day or night with no consequences, just like drinking water. How long do you think it would take for you to have had enough? I’m guessing that by day 2 (or maybe day 3 for the hardcore) you’d be well and truly over it. In fact, you’d quickly get to the point where the last thing you’d want to eat would be Mini Eggs. Who knows, you might even start to crave the crisp, fresh bite of an apple!
Now I'm not suggesting for a moment that the answer to emotional eating is to just cave in and stuff yourself silly for a few days in the hope you kill the craving, but it is in re-framing your relationship with what it is you crave. There’s nothing wrong with eating Mini Eggs, it’s just chocolate, it doesn’t have any intrinsic powers of good or evil! There’s absolutely no reason not to eat them if you love them, but in order to enjoy them we need to find a level of consumption that provides satisfaction without guilt and which doesn't undermine our health and weight loss goals. This is what we call 'moderation'.
It’s important to remember that all foods exist on a spectrum from extremely nutritious to not very nutritious, it’s not as black and white as saying you ‘should’ eat this and you ‘should not’ eat that. It’s about balance, as long as you are eating a healthy, balanced diet most of the time there is absolutely no need to feel guilty if you have some chocolate (or a glass of wine or a bag of crisps). Eat it, enjoy it, move on.
And now, if you’ll forgive me, there's a bag of Mini Eggs with my name on it! It is Easter after all.