Comfort eating, which is basically emotional eating, is one of the things we do to help us cope with being isolated.
Cut Off from the World
There’s a reason that prison wardens use solitary confinement to put inmates into when they are “bad.” It’s because it hurts. And not just emotionally but physically as well. It’s a strain on the body to have no contact ( especially if it’s involuntary) with other people.
Being cut off is one of the worst forms of punishments and is one cause of depression, anxiety, despair and ultimately suicide for some.
Other people have been driven mad by prolonged isolation where they have no contact with anyone in any form for several months. It’s like they become somewhat feral, and seem to revert to a human who is less developed.
It’s the reason why neglect in children is a form of abuse and why they can be permanently damaged from it.
Socializing is a Need, not a Luxury
We need to be around other people. We are social creatures who need to spend a good amount of time with others if we are to thrive or even maintain a minimum standard of health. Of course depending on your temperament you may need more or less than others but everyone needs it to some degree.
We have evolved to be this way. Having bigger brains means lots of processing power but it also means more anxiety and one of the ways we regulate that anxiety is by creating and maintaining connections with other people.
We’ve all seen those documentaries where they look for countries, or areas within a country that have people living to 100 or so in reasonably good health and who are also mentally sharp. The filmmakers look into their way of life and examine their diet, activity level and many other variables as these elders go about their day.
In every single case it boils down to them being a social people and putting emphasis on the fact that they spend lots and lots of time with the people in their community. Having meals with the people next door without an appointment. Having coffee with friends at night and playing chess with whoever is available on the street corner.
Lots and lots of in person interaction in important. Connecting with people online is great but limited in it’s capacity. I’d go so far as to say that it’s inadequate, and that it’s something nice to have but not able to provide the benefits that in person socializing does.
Food and Loneliness
Comfort eating gets it’s name due to the fact that indulging in it will give you some form of comfort. As we’ve learned above, being isolated actually hurts and so many people who are in these situations will turn to food to make them feel better.
Foods that are high in sugar, carbs and fat are usually preferred. The ones that come to mind are foods like breads, pastas, desserts and sweets. All of which elicit a pleasure response when eaten and then change your body chemistry once digested.
You feel full, less anxious and settled which dulls the isolation pain that was there before. Of course that’s not healthy and simply a quick fix until the effect wears off, but you can’t blame people for trying to find some way out of their pain.
Many nurses in long term care homes report that their residents die so much faster (sometimes within days) when they have been cut off from others or unable to socialize or see family on a regular basis. They succumb to the despair.
But, it’s not just the elderly. Many people feel cut off from the world for a multitude of reasons and so the cure is to re engage. Have that conversation with your father you’ve been holding off on your entire life.
Tell your spouse what you’re not happy with. Express love and appreciation when you feel it even if it’s uncomfortable – actually especially if it’s uncomfortable. Go out and talk to your neighbors or the mom next to you at little league.
Increase the amount of time you spend with others and be as honest as you can. Connection and emotional regulation count on it. Remember it’s good for you AND good for them as well.
Being around lots of other people isn’t an option – our life literally depends on it.
THE EATING LOVE GUIDE (FREE)
The Eating Love Guide has helped many people regain control of their eating patterns, resulting not only in weight loss but also better health and improved self-esteem. To read it online, click here.