Why ‘Numb Eating’ is Worse Than Comfort Eating

There’s a really powerful concept from a renowned doctor that differentiates between two important behaviours: comforting versus numbing.

It’s something that potentially affects us all.

How food can comfort or numb us

Let’s consider it in the guise of food, because that’s a big one for a lot of us.

Scenario 1:

We’re rocking along in our world feeling fabulous, in control, confident, we’re wearing our sassy pants.  We decide to have a 12WBT Chocolate Bunny as a decadent treat and we sit down and savour every morsel of it.  That’s comfort!  

We’ve been conscious and deliberate in the eating and enjoyment of the food. We’ve relished every bite.

Scenario 2:

We’re feeling run over by our lives, we’re careening along, out of control, stressed/sad/scared/insert other crappy emotion here.

We decide we need something to make ourselves feel better – a glass of wine, a square of chocolate, a piece of pizza.  But before we can even think, the whole bottle’s finished, the family sized chocolate block has been inhaled, the pizza box is empty.

And, we can’t even remember what any of it tasted like!  That’s numbing.  We’ve been unconscious in our copious consumption, and now we’re regretting it.  Sound familiar?

The cycle of numbing behaviour

Numbing is when we’re trying to block out an emotion or situation that’s hard for us.  

Hard things are hard, and it’s human nature to not want to experience hard things. The irony is that in numbing one hard situation we slam straight into another – the hard realisation that we’re feeling shame, hurt, anger for our mindless actions.

That hard realisation can then very easily trigger more numbing behaviour to try and get away, and a vicious cycle begins.

How do we stop this cycle? 

By practising leaning into hard emotions and situations – by being brave enough to trust that we can do hard things.  

Letting ourselves experience hard emotions (and the hard situations that give rise to the hard emotions) doesn’t mean we set up camp and move there permanently.  It means we allow ourselves to feel the feelings fully, move through them and out the other side.  

This is the practise of mindfulness, and it’s part of how we build a resilient spirit.  People who are resilient aren’t just practising mindfulness in a vacuum.  Resilient people are resourceful – they ask for help, have good social support around them (i.e. they’re connected to family, friends, relevant professionals), and they believe that they can do things that will help them manage their feelings and cope (i.e. that mindfulness process and getting outside support and help).

Also read: 8 Ways to Change Your Relationship With Food

Mindfulness is key

How do we tell the difference between comfort and numbing?  Again, mindfulness is the key.  When we’re doing something as a comfort to ourselves, we’re aware of how we feel and how the comfort action feels to us, every moment that the comfort is taking place.  

So, every mouthful of the chocolate tastes as yummy as the first.  If we get to the bottom of the container of bunnies and we can’t remember what eating any of them tasted like, that’s numbing.

We’re always going to have times when we may fall into numbing – it’s part of this crazy chaos of life. But if we know the telltale signs and practise mindfulness and cultivating a resilient spirit, we can arrest the runaway train and get back on track. 

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