Eating a Hot DogDo you ever find yourself feeling down, unhappy, or restless, and before you know it, you are eating something you hadn’t planned to? If so, you’re not alone. “Emotional eating” or “comfort eating” is really common, both for people with and without diabetes. As an attempt to feel better (temporarily at least) it’s okay to use food like this some of the time. However, when food starts to feel like it controls you, rather than you being in control of food, and particularly if you have weight to lose, it can be helpful to consider your eating behaviour from a different angle. What is your ‘relationship’ with food? This article will help you understand the way you relate to food and diabetes weight loss is not just a simple formula of “eat less and move more”. There are numerous reasons why the relationship you have with food may be complex and these can be divided into biological, psychological, and social factors.

Biologically, we are fighting against our evolutionary history. Our bodies have evolved to store food in times of plenty to sustain us in times of scarcity and this is at odds with our modern day lives in which food is more than abundant. Our bodies simply haven’t caught up with our contemporary western world.

Psychologically, the connection between emotion and food is one that is established from birth, from the very first time you cried and your mother comforted you with milk. As you grew up, you may have been given sweets to cheer you up after the upset of hurting yourself, or been cooked your favourite dinner when you’d fallen out with a friend. Food is not just a fuel; it has been conditioned as a soother of emotions for as long as you can remember. So now when you’ve had an argument with your partner, or a bad day at work, there can be an impulse to reach for food as a way of calming, distracting, or comforting yourself.

Further, being able to limit food intake to maintain a socially desirable slim body shape is valued in today’s western societies; therefore, eating choices aren’t just made on nutritional content or taste but are complicated by their connection to personal sense of self-worth.

Socially, shared eating experiences are a way of bonding, celebrating, and showing love within our families and communities. Births, deaths, marriages, and all occasions in between are marked by food. Family members may offer food (and keep offering, long after we’ve said no thank you!) as a substitute when it is difficult for them to express love through a hug or saying “I love you”.

So fast forward to the diagnosis of diabetes and you are suddenly required to sharply focus on food and be thoughtful about changing or limiting previously enjoyed food choices. Your doctor, nurse, and dietician will tell you healthy eating is one of the crucial elements of optimal diabetes control; but given the link between food and emotions, it’s hardly surprising that encouragement by healthcare professionals to cut down on fatty sugary food is sometimes difficult to implement.

You know in your head what you should be doing, but it’s hard to break away from the conditioning and pattern of food as an instant route to pleasure, distraction and satisfaction.

However this pattern can be changed. The goal is to reach a place in which you can make a decision about whether or not to eat when you are feeling emotional, rather than it just being an automatic response. An important point to remember is that everyone — of every shape and size — can use food to deal with his or her emotions, and occasionally it can be fine to use food in this way. The danger is when food becomes the only way to deal with emotions. The next article in this series will examine strategies to help you gain control over your eating, the central role of your thoughts in eating behaviour, and how authentic emotional expression can help.

You may use this article on your website, or for your own e-zine; however, there's one thing you MUST include: Dr. Jen Nash is a Clinical Psychologist chartered with the British Psychological Society. Dr. Jen helps her clients find solutions with simple and highly-effective psychological strategies to gain freedom from the frustration and stress of living with diabetes. To sign up for her free Diabetes Diary, visit