A client just asked: “I know I use food for comfort and to soothe myself. What can I do instead?” That is such a common question—and one that can be so difficult to answer--especially in the moment. When we want comfort, food can seem like such a quick, easy, accessible fix.

I recommend that you spend some time generating a list of possible comfort strategies. They won’t all fit in every situation, but options are always helpful. When you start to put together your list of ideas, be sure that you avoid some of these common traps:

What comfort strategies are NOT:

A comfort strategy is not a “should.” It’s not uncommon, when I ask someone to think about what they could do instead of eating for comfort, to hear, “Well, what I should do is . . “ Followed by some task that’s about as appealing as taking out the garbage. I’ve heard everything from, “I should really just clean out the garage,” to “do some ab work” and “pay bills.” Turning to a task on your to-do list in order to distract yourself from eating is indeed a strategy, but it’s not a COMFORT strategy. If what you are really needing is comfort, expecting yourself to do a hard or unpleasant thing instead is not going to fill the bill. You may end up with a feeling of accomplishment, but you won’t feel comforted.

A comfort strategy is usually not difficult or high-maintenance. Be realistic. If you are seeking comfort, do you usually have a lot of energy or motivation to go out of your way to make something happen? If you do, then having a comfort strategy that requires a 20 mile drive or a lot of set up might work for you. Many people turn to food because it is easy and convenient and quick. Apply those same rules to comfort strategies. What can you have on your list that is easily within reach? One woman I know took this literally. She put her knitting project in the cupboard where she usually goes for snacks.

A comfort strategy has to fit YOU. The same strategies won’t work for everyone. Reading a list of ideas might be helpful, but the most successful approach is likely to come when you take the time to sit down and think about yourself. What are you needing or wanting in those moments when you want to eat? Identify the kind of activities or alternatives that might fit for you.

Here’s a list of possible comfort strategies that was generated by a recent group discussion:

Go for a walk
Go to the bookstore and read
Put on music that I love
Call a friend
Visit a message board or forum or Facebook and spend time online
(When at work)—Change tasks, take a walk around the office, make a cup of tea
Taking a nap or going to bed early

What's on your list? Take some time to develop your own list of possible strategies. Then be sure to put it somewhere where it's easy to find and refer to at the appropriate time.

Author's Bio: 

Melissa McCreery, PhD, ACC, is a Psychologist, ICF Certified Life Coach, emotional eating expert, and the founder of www.TooMuchOnHerPlate.com, a company dedicated to providing smart resources to busy women struggling with food, weight and overwhelm. Find out more and pick up her free audio series: “5 simple steps to move beyond overwhelm with food and life” at www.TooMuchOnHerPlate.com

Copyright 2009 - Melissa McCreery, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Reprint Rights: You may reprint this article as long as you leave all of the links active, do not edit the article in any way, and provide full author credit.