Why we Comfort Eat


The answer lies in our endorphins, or opioid peptides as they are also known, which play a strong role in food intake. And before you say ‘then let them be gone!’, you should know that endorphins help us deal with both physical and emotional pain and without them, quite frankly, we would be done for!

Now just as morphine acting on these opioid peptides can numb physical pain, so our emotions can lead to changes in our opioid activity, which in turn can lead to increased food cravings. We get dumped, we reach for the ice cream.

But as if getting dumped is not enough, the subsequent sleeplessness that we may then experience, can cause a loss of REM sleep which increases our beta-endorphins and drives food cravings.

As if this isn’t bad enough, what happens next is that the body’s cells become desensitized due to the surplus of endorphins and the cells don’t ‘hear’ the signal. The result is that the body thinks it is low in endorphins. So what do we do? We reach for the ice cream again! But any substance or activity that balances out our biochemistry will cause us to become addicted to it. Eat sugar. Become addicted. Eat sugar. Endorphin levels rise. High levels of endorphins; desensitization to their signal. Eat sugar…and so the cycle continues.

Our endorphins also play a major role in our stress response; not only controlling physical and emotional pain during stress, but also releasing into the blood stream stored fat to convert to energy. However, if we develop resistance to our endorphins, then our fat cells become deaf to the message to release the stored fat.  So our body produces more endorphins to get the response it needs. Over time this can lead to our entire opioid peptide activity being decreased leading to increased cravings.

And finally, during times of stress, our sympathetic nervous system decreases leptin levels. Low leptin levels tell our body to keep eating and keep storing fat. Oh joy! So now we have chronically low leptin levels and chronically high endorphin levels; the perfect storm for overeating and storing fat, with no capacity to release it for fat burning. So even if we reduce our calories and increase our exercise, our weight does not reduce…

So what to do?

  • Think LESS about getting the food right and MORE about getting the life style right
  • Try and get 8 hours’ sleep per night in a dark room
  • Dedicate time on a daily basis to mental relaxation
  • Exercise daily, even if it’s only walking or hoovering
  • Eat natural food products, fresh vegetables, fruit, fish, and meat (the latter in moderation)
  • Recognise that high sugar foods have no nutritional value
  • Learn self-hypnosis techniques to manage stress
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