Keep calm and deal with those comfort cravings

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Most people, especially us women, want to lose weight or change our body shape or both to some extent.

So why is it that we self-sabotage, especially when the emotional chips are down?

Why when we’re fed up, angry, stressed or upset in any kind of way do we seek comfort in those foods we know we should not eat.

You know the stuff – the sugary, high carb, high fat, treats that, in that instant we’re shoving into our mouths to make us feel better.

How many of you feel really bad about yourselves after a comfort-eating binge?

Well, here’s the first bit of good news. You can stop being so hard on yourself because it’s actually not our own fault that we ‘comfort eat’.

You see, we are actually programmed to behave this way from an early age.

As tiny babies, the first thing our mums used to do for us when we showed any sign of being upset was to either shove a boob or a bottle in our mouths, both laden with sweet, comforting milk.

As we grew a little older, if we fell over and bumped ourselves or got upset about something, chances are we were again pacified with

a Farley’s rusk or a sweet treat.

And on it continued – the Farley’s rusks were replaced with biscuits or sweets but the association was the same. Misery, pain and distress were almost always soothed with something sugary.

Is it really any surprise, then, that when someone upsets you, stresses you, hurts you, the first thing you want to do is eat something sweet to comfort yourself.

It’s actually hard-wired into your brain because you’ve been doing it from your earliest memory.

The second bit of good news is that this may be the way our brains are programmed and conditioned to react, but we can change that. We can reprogramme our hard drive.

Even though it’s still our instinct to reach for the wrong foods when we’re upset, we now know that it doesn’t help in the long-term.

The things that upset us as grown-ups are almost certainly more profound than those that upset us as children.

Therefore, common sense now tells us that eating a packet of Chocolate Hobnobs because we’ve had cross words with a colleague or a fight with a loved-one won’t change the situation.

All it does is provide a momentary distraction and a brief hit of happiness chemical dopamine.

However, long-term we’ve added to our problems because we now have the added burden of guilt and self-blame to contend with.

So now that we’re armed with this revelation, how can we take action?

Next time, you’re fed up, miserable, annoyed or stressed and you want to comfort yourself with something that’s going to damage your long-term goals, here are three things you can do.

Stop: Be present in the moment and be aware of your behaviour. Think about why you want sugar. It’s just your subconscious mind taking over and reminding you that this is how you get comfort.

Wait: If you’re gripped by the urge to run to the staff room and grab a biscuit, or run to the local shop and buy something sweet to distract you from your unhappiness, just wait.

Even set an alarm on your phone for 10 minutes, five minutes or two minutes.

Remember, this is a re-training exercise. While you wait, remind yourself why you have these urges and why that bar of chocolate is not actually going to make the problem go away.

Breathe: Distract yourself with something else that’s going to make you feel good. Look at a funny animal video on YouTube, play your favourite song.

Eventually, the almost-irresistible, compelling urge for sugar will subside.

Nikki Caputa is a health and fitness coach who works one-to-one with clients and runs her own fitness camps where she trains groups. Known as FAB Body Bootcamps, two are based in Fareham and one is in Portsmouth.

Nikki is also an ambassador for Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. Visit fabbodybootcamp.co.uk and challenge-fitness.co.uk. Follow Nikki on Twitter @nikkifitmum1