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Comfort eating during the pandemic.

This week I would like to introduce Meredith Milton, nutritionist extraordinaire, who specializes in mindful eating. I would love to be able to use this vehicle as a way of introducing amazing people to all of you; to share their wisdom and create a community of support for all of us. Please take advantage and share. Enjoy!

It doesn’t need to be said that this is an extremely challenging time for many people. The propensity to turn to food to deal with all of the unwanted emotions is understandable. Food is THERE, it’s distracting, and for the brief moments it’s being consumed, it’s comforting.... until afterwards, when there’s a different discomfort – fullness, bloating, sluggishness and regret. Without the proper skills and tools, the need to distract and escape those unwanted feelings ASAP can be overwhelming.

Perhaps this becomes a habitual way of coping which then leads to other unwanted states of being and feeling in our bodies. We don’t yet trust our ability to just BE with that discomfort, and we definitely don’t accept it, so as we judge, criticize and analyze the discomfort (and the cause of it), it just escalates.

So, what can we do?

Practice Mindful Eating.

When you ARE eating for comfort, eat mindfully. If you truly are wanting food to give you a pleasurable experience, then by being present for the experience of eating, you can do just that. Slow down and fully engage all of your senses: be fully in the taste, smells, sight and textures of the food. By doing so you will register satisfaction in your brain and allow the food to “do it's job” of giving you a sensory experience.

You can also drop into present moment awareness by checking in with the feeling of your heartbeat, and your breath; perhaps a gentle breeze or the feel of clothing on your skin, sounds, and other smells or sights.

Follow this 2 minute mindful eating practice while eating to start building your mindful eating chops. If you practice eating mindfully during neutral times, it will make it a lot easier to employ when you’re highly charged.

Give yourself Permission to Eat (Counterintuitive, I know!)

To be able to eat mindfully, there’s a critical mindset shift that needs to happen: PERMISSION. When you give yourself permission (meaning you don’t label food as “good” or “bad”) - you remove the thing to rebel against.

You then get to make an EMPOWERED CHOICE: “I shouldn’t eat this” turns into “I CAN... but do I want to?! Does my BODY want it?” This inner mindset shift to permission can shift your outer behavior to one where you find it easy to choose something other than the food, or to eat mindfully where you can enjoy your food and eat less.

Take a mindful pause.

On your way to implementing the above, take a mindful pause. This means you stop and take 3-5 full belly breaths. This calms your nervous system, pulling you out of flight-or-fight. You can also use your breath to ride the wave of cravings. Cravings and emotions will often peak, crest and fall like a wave. You can use the breath to ride it instead of it riding you. Also, by pausing and taking some breaths, you create space between stimulus and response.

Once you create space, you can then get mindful.

Mindfulness means awareness WITH acceptance and curiosity. If there’s awareness with judgment, it isn’t mindfulness. So, get curious and accepting OF the discomfort, get curious and accepting OF the desire to eat, get curious and accepting OF all of the chaotic thoughts racing through your mind.

When you accept what is happening as a detached observer, all of that softens.

When you get CURIOUS, you can then be open to discover what is ACTUALLY being asked to be soothed and HOW it wants to be soothed.

In my personal experience and from leading hundreds of people through this, you discover that it’s not about food. The emotion or craving may have a message for you that can only really be heard once you quiet, accept and “listen”.

So, direct the energy you’re currently using to willpower yourself to refrain from eating or judging/analyzing that and channel into curiosity – then the true need and desire will present itself. You can then respond to THAT.

Give yourself Compassion.

This means you recognize that what you are experiencing isn’t you being flawed – it's you being very HUMAN – and then bring kindness to that. You can choose kind self-talk instead of letting the inner critic run the show by inviting in some loving-kindness. While taking longer, slower breaths, say to yourself:




All of the above are PRACTICES. The more you practice them, the easier they get and the more automatic they become. Mindfulness, body awareness and compassion are SKILLS you develop. As you develop them, you may also find you’re more aware of what true hunger and fullness feel like in your body and you are able to honor it. You may discover you’re able to ‘hear’ more clearly what your body is asking for in terms of certain nutrients, water, or rest...and are able to honor it.

Please be kind and gentle with yourself! As with every skill in life, the development of these skills starts with intentionality and an awkward beginner’s phase; through deliberate practice you eventually create muscle memory (which is actually in your brain, not your muscles) and these skills feel easy and more natural.

Meredith Milton is a nutritionist and mindful eating coach. She helps women & men find peace with food so they can mindfully thrive as their best selves.

She has a Master’s degree in nutrition; she’s conducted and published peer-reviewed research on mindfulness and eating behaviors and has a private practice where she has coached hundreds of people transform their relationship to food, their bodies and their health.

P.S. I run a free 14-day mindful eating challenge. Join us for the next round!

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