Using Food To Cope

Dan DeFigioBehavior and Mindfulness

using food to cope

Here’s a story from a reader about using food to cope. Maybe this applies to you?

“Hi Dan

I like what you’ve been saying lately.
I think for those who eat things habitually, food becomes a coping mechanism.
We think that they help us to manage stress.
And/or they are a reward for getting through a tough day.
So the thought of going without them feels like deprivation.”


Sound familiar? But then the realization comes:

“But I think that in order to break free, we need to see the bigger picture — the negative consequences and pain they bring into our lives.
To realize these foods aren’t a treat or a reward, but something that is standing in the way of what we really want.”


And the big questions:

“The big question for me is how do I keep that in mind in the midst of the urge/craving?
When it is driving me toward the behavior that I don’t really want to do.

In the moment, I feel so compelled to do the habit mainly to make the urge go away.

And to buy into the lie that I can try again tomorrow, or next week, etc.

What can I tell myself or do that will enable me to ride out the craving without giving in?

I truly believe that is the key to breaking unhealthy habits that hold me and many others back.”

And here’s what I sent back (this will probably apply to you too!)

Thanks for the note [name withheld].
Food and drink (and drugs, and gambling, and sex, and even mind-numbing TV or internet watching) can all be coping mechanisms.

When you use the phrase “managing stress”, what most people mean is “giving my brain something else to think about besides how bad I feel.”

Using something to “cope” with stress, loneliness, overwhelm, resentment, fear, or any number of unpleasant feelings is simply a distraction.

Sugary food is a double whammy, because in addition to the distraction, we also get a pleasant sensation, and our brains crave that. We can literally get addicted to this dopamine pleasure center stimulation.


My advice on using food to cope has two parts:

  1. When you find yourself reaching for something that you know is no good for you in order to “cope”, take a minute to figure out what you’re really seeking in that moment. Is it peacefulness? A feeling of control? A desire to feel empowered instead of afraid? Sugar can’t give you any of that.
    Once you figure out what you really want, you can find ways to actually get it, instead of pretending/distracting with food.
  2. You mentioned a reward. We all seek things that are pleasurable. I am certain that there are things in this world that you like that aren’t food. Make a short list of things you like — rewards — that have nothing to do with food. Now you have a toolbox to pick from when you want a reward – it doesn’t have to be food.

If you’ve been using food to cope, and you want to make some changes with how you relate to food, contact Dan right now so the two of you can set a time to talk about what kind of help you need.

beat sugar addiction now ebook