Comfort Eating. Why do we do it?

Comfort Eating. Why do we do it?

For example, have you ever heard of the chemical Monosodium Glutamate? Better known by its more common name, MSG (look for the E number E621). As well as being a major additive in many foods, it is also used in laboratories to fatten up rats for experimentation. MSG causes high levels excitation and is often referred to as an excitotoxin. It is found in so many foods, and is purposefully added to foods such as soups, seasonings, snacks, fast foods, ready meals, and many more, in order to trigger your sense of craving for other foods which provide excessive stimulation (such as those high in sugar, or caffeine, or salt)
This is scary stuff! I highly recommend you read the book ‘Brandwashed’ which also covers this point.

So how can we fight back against brand and supermarket marketers (who are equally as bad with their own in store own brand products)? We know what we are craving, and why we are craving it (to literally get our fix of such substances), but what else is influencing us to buy these foods in the first place (other than knowing they taste good).

Many of the foods we crave are often described as rewards, treats, celebrations (literally!), or as something we deserve. You will frequently see marketing that describes certain food in such ways as “go on, treat yourself” or “you deserve a reward”. Coincidently, when we reward ourselves, our brains release a powerful neurotransmitter called Dopamine. In our brains, dopamine is translated as pleasure, creating a powerful feeling of satisfaction which we crave and become addicted to. During periods of the day when we have not received a reward for some time, we begin to crave a dopamine hit and start searching for ways to obtain this satisfaction associated with rewards. The more frequently we reward ourselves, the greater the need for a greater reward.
In food terms, something as innocent as yoghurt can (and many do) contain chemicals and sugars, and literally feed your reward system, giving you that release of dopamine you’ve been waiting for. If you have a relatively healthy diet and then start to reward yourself with something as innocent (hint) as yoghurt, you’re going to release dopamine into your system as a result. This in turn is going to influence you to seek out and crave sweeter foods. Perhaps you have the same problem with salt and you seek out crisps as a reward too. The fun, rewarding, celebratory slogan “once you pop you just can’t stop” soon becomes a real problem. If you look back to where your addictions started, for many during times of stress or lack of stimulation, you may be able to identify what foods initially caused the problem, and what foods you began to go after from there on.

For me I recognised this problem in bread and other baked products. I also loved bread based meals such as pizza, burgers, sandwiches (hungry yet?), and sweet baked goods. Unfortunately, these very products were feeding my cravings, and helping me towards a diet which was entirely reactive to the cravings I had to fulfil. Even when I was not hungry I would impulsively buy Burger Kings (I used to live a few yards away from a Burger King at University), cakes, doughnuts, you get the idea. Crisps and chocolate then became the norm (notice how ‘meal deals’ are always a sandwich, packet of crisps, some sort of chocolate, and bottle of fruit juice from concentrate or a fruit smoothie…supermarkets know how to get you hooked!) But it wasn’t the bread itself I was addicted to…it was their unlabelled ingredients. Bakers of ‘fresh’ bread and baked goods in the UK do not have to fully label their products with the ingredients used. The Real Bread Campaign gives us an overview of what bakers and retailers are not required to do for us consumers (

  • Bakers and retailers are not required to provide customers with full lists of ingredients and any additives they use in making unwrapped loaves – e.g. those from supermarket in-store bakeries.
  • The use of so-called processing aids can go completely undeclared, even on the ingredient and additive lists of wrapped loaves.
  • There are no legal definitions for terms commonly used in loaf marketing, including ‘fresh’ (or ‘freshly baked’), ‘sourdough’, ‘wholegrain’, ‘artisan’ and ‘craft.’


Shocked? We literally live in a world where avoiding additives or addictive substances is near impossible! It’s no wonder we crave such bad foods or comfort eat, or even let these foods become a part of our everyday diet! Once these foods are in your everyday diet the supermarkets know you will literally be buying the sweeter, saltier, more appealing foods which are ridiculously high in these addictive substances.The messages throughout online food stores and in the supermarkets themselves are telling us it’s ok to buy and enjoy more, and more, and more.

How do we stop? If you really concerned then your first point of call should be a GP (I always recommend this) as they can help guide you towards resources and even dieticians. Never attempt to dramatically or suddenly change your diet without GP guidance. For me, I took steps to keep bad foods out of sight and out of mind. I avoided the baked goods aisle and I wouldn’t allow any bad foods into my kitchen. I made rules for myself such as eating those foods only at weekends, which I soon reduced to a new rule which is now ‘eating those foods only at birthdays and celebrations, and I’m on my way to reducing this even further’. By reducing my intake of bad foods I naturally reduce the cravings and my addictions slowly break down. They become less frequent and I haven’t caused myself any additional stress from drastically changing my diet. My approach to food is much less reactive.

I also started to explore fresh vegetables, fruits and healthy fats. I realised that my taste buds could only recognise severely strong flavours, and I would find vegetables to be bland, which they shouldn’t be! They have so much flavour but we can barely recognise it as it’s not what we’re used to.
Also, I looked for different ways to reward myself other than food, which is how I got into exercise and why I continued playing sports. I loved playing (and still do) rugby! I found Calisthenics to be challenging and rewarding, especially when I could perform the more complex movements due to my hard work paying off. Re-wiring your dopamine reward system to respond to a healthy stimulus is a key way to avoid comfort eating or treating yourself regularly with bad foods. It’s strange to say it but I now crave fresh raw foods like vegetables, leafy greens, fruits, nut and seeds because my body has got used to wanting the nutrients. I become more irritated when I am a bit dehydrated, as opposed to needing a cup of coffee. It may sound a bit mad or even ridiculous, but I want to encourage you to remove addictive foods and seek out a healthier diet. Find other foods, healthier foods to reward yourself with. Work out which healthy foods are your favourite and work from there (find recipes that use them for example). Reward yourself in a different way and fulfil your bodies cravings for a dopamine hit with a healthy reward, something you enjoy.

It’s not going to be easy but nothing worth having ever is! If you’re looking for a way to reward yourself with exercise then I urge you to try out Calisthenics, which can be done without any equipment and can be performed anywhere, anytime, by yourself or in groups. Yes, I’ll even plug my own classes but they are good fun and they could help you get started on your journey towards a stronger version of you.

If you have any questions then leave comment or email me at

For next weeks blog article I’ll be writing about one of my biggest problems which is sleep and a feeling of constant tiredness. I really do struggle to get out of bed in the morning, and although I’m not as bad as I used to be, I still often feel constantly tired.

7 Ways to cure a Sugar Addiction

7 Ways to cure a Sugar Addiction

My concern, which has been a personal concern for me for some time, is the addiction of sugar as this can get you into a bit of a cycle. It also doesn’t help that artificial sweeteners or “no calorie” sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharin, sucralose (for more info I highly recommend this site help stimulate our cravings even more so! They do this by tricking our bodies into thinking we are about to digest a high amount of calories, which causes our brains to tell us to eat more until that very expectation is met!
Then we have the effect that sugar has on our mood (and again, our brain chemistry). We get our sugar fix and all is calm for a moment. Then we crash when our blood sugar levels drop, and we become a bit irritated. Then we eat more. Once we start building up a bit of tolerance (just like with coffee or alcohol) we seem to require more sugar in higher doses with shorter time periods between crashes. We start to want more, more often, in higher amounts.

AND THEN there is the triglyceride problem! Triglycerides are what I call “Fat Sugars”. They are fatty acids bonded to a glycerol molecule. Triglycerides are a major energy store for us, called upon when we need energy (particularly during sustained high-intensity workouts). This makes them a stubborn form of energy as we will always burn available sugars in our system first when we exercise.

What this means is that when we are consuming more energy than we need through eating a diet high in sugar, even if we have a low-fat diet, we are still getting fat as we are literally giving our body no reason to burn fat as energy!

AND THEN when we start to burn fat as fuel, the triglycerides are broken down into their individual parts, which means sugar will enter our bloodstream and we will inevitably crash again, then crave more sugar, and if we already have a sugar addiction then we will most likely eat something sugary to cure the crash, which means consuming more energy, which means that no matter how much we exercise we cannot lose weight! Then to help self-medicate our sugar cravings we often turn to no calorie sugar alternatives to help us, but it turns out they’re just making it worse and are increasing our sugar addiction!

AND THEN we start to look at the ingredients in our food and realise that EVERYTHING has some form of sugar and sugar alternatives! White carbs or refined carbs (bread, pasta, rice, cereal), diet foods, soup, plain-ish crackers, soy or almond milks, yoghurts – the list could go on! Reading the ingredients on many of our daily foods only makes us give up hope that we could ever have a low sugar diet, let alone get release from our sugar addictions.

For me, fighting this addiction and coming up with a diet and lifestyle that can be low in sugar, has been a never ending battle.

But since I have become more and more conscious of the seriousness of sugar, and its effects both on my mood and my weight, I have been able to cut back and seen dramatic changes in my body and mind. I started this journey into fighting my sugar addiction about a year ago after meeting a Raw Vegan guy called James Painting, who I met on my PT course taught by Lara Painting. His passion for the Raw Vegan lifestyle inspired me to think about my own diet, and how everyday foods were really affecting me. I cannot say I have completely removed sugar from my diet (can anyone say that?) as carbs are sugar and not all carbs are bad. For example, fruit contains the sugar fructose, milk contains lactose, and some vegetables contain starch, and these are all healthy foods (some will debate whether or not milk is healthy). But what I have done is taken account of how sugar affects me.

Here are my tips for taking control of my sugar addictions:

1. Find out when you most likely crave sugar in the day

You’ll be surprised that you often crave sugar at similar times in the day every day. Find out when those times are and pre-plan a few healthy snacks to fill you up.

2. Source healthy carbs for your diet

When the cravings get really bad your will power will be tested. Sadly, sugar is so addictive that there is very little we can do against a bad craving. What we can do is fix our cravings with nutrient rich foods that contain sugars. Fruits are ideal, as are unrefined carbs (brown pasta).

3. Eat more protein, more fibre and drink more water!

When you need energy your sugar addicted brain will tell you to go and get sugar (or sugar like products). You can suppress this before it happens by including protein in your diet, increasing your water intake, and eating more leafy greens! Leafy greens are also incredibly good for you. I would urge anyone to increase their water intake and intake of leafy greens.

4. Get more sleep!

Sleep deprivation causes you to crave energy boosting foods and drinks such as caffeine and of course sugars. Get a good nights sleep to prevent this. Stress and exhaustion also have the same effect on your cravings, it will increase them.

5. Remove nutrient empty sugary foods from site

More often than not we are tempted by what we see. This is difficult when we shop for our food online or in the supermarket as those companies will play on our addictions to make a sale. Don’t let them beat you down this way. Keep the bad food out of sight, out of home and out of mind.

6. Don’t quit cold turkey!

Sugar is addictive. If you have an addiction then you need to find a way to consume less. Going cold turkey will cause major upsets to your system, so reduce your sugar intake gradually. Remember that your sugar addiction is caused by the sugar suppressing your natural pleasure producing chemicals by replacing them. It’s similar to self-medication, which any GP will recommend against. Gradually bring back your natural pleasure producing brain chemicals. Which leads on to my next point…

7. Exercise more!

Exercise stimulates a fulfilment to both body and mind, releasing those natural pleasure chemicals in our brains. Use exercise to suppress your sugar cravings by seeking out your brains natural reward system without using sugar

Sugar is an addiction, and the only way to get over that addiction is to not eat sugar. Sadly this is impossible as our bodies need carbs for energy. But we can cut down a lot of our sugar intake, take control of our lives, and not have our shopping or dietary habits, our moods, or our motivation affected by this everyday drug.