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Over the Top and the Comfort of Food

Since I’m a fan of Queer Eye, I decided to check out Jonathan Van Ness’s memoir Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love. I really appreciated his willingness to share his story, and while I couldn’t directly relate to many of his experiences, I could sympathize with a few things.

I can understand the feeling of not fitting in while growing up. And unfortunately, I know what it’s like to lose a parent to cancer.

But the part I most related to was turning to food for comfort.

Self-soothing with food

Jonathan had some bad experiences at a young age, and he learned early on to turn to food, such as Cinnamon Toast Crunch, cinnamon rolls, and powdered donuts.

And in the book, he recognized why he turned to food this way:

“I was desperate to find a sense of control and comfort anywhere I could. I had no healthy ways to self-soothe, so mostly I turned to food….

“Besides, in a tiny midwestern town of thirty-six thousand people, where almost everyone around me was eating to soothe themselves, too, it was something I could do in the same way, which made me a part of something, when I felt disconnected from everyone.” (p. 57)

My heart reached out to young Jonathan when I read that. I could identify so much with turning to food and desperately wanting to feel connected. (Although having grown up in a town of thirty-five hundred, I can’t think of any place with thirty-six thousand people as “tiny.”)

This is a good reminder that seeking comfort in food is something we learn to do – which means we can unlearn it. And while it’s not the optimal way to deal with problems or difficult emotions, it’s also not the worst.

Most of us have comfort foods

I also loved his acknowledgment of the fact that he was not alone in eating to comfort himself. He’s right that this is something most of us do at one time or another.

I think this is one reason why diets so often fail. They don’t provide allowances for this very human urge to eat for comfort. And if you feel like you can’t have those foods that soothe you while everyone around you is eating them, that can be very isolating and demoralizing – and make you want to ditch the diet.

That’s why I appreciate how mindful eating isn’t about avoiding those foods or telling you not to eat unless you’re hungry.

You can choose to eat comfort foods for no reason but comfort, and that’s okay. You may not always want to make that choice, but either way, it’s your choice.

You don’t need to be ashamed of comfort eating

Too often, we’re made to feel embarrassed or ashamed of eating comfort foods, as if this is a dark secret or shameful thing. But it’s not.

Eating for comfort is just a way of dealing with difficult things, and even though it may only give you a temporary reprieve, sometimes that’s all you need to pick yourself up and keep going.

Even if you choose different ways to comfort or soothe yourself most of the time, deciding to have ice cream or powdered donuts or whatever else comforts you now and again isn’t something to be ashamed of. It’s a normal thing to do, and sometimes, it can even help you connect to other people.


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