When food equals comfort!

I want to start this blog by thanking all the people who have contacted me over the last week or so either via this page or through the various Linkedin discussion threads in the special interest groups. I have received a mass of perspectives and some people have shared with me some very personal stories of their own successes and in some cases continuing struggles. Some people have agreed with my view point but others have disagreed with elements.

The debate is healthy so let’s keep going with it. One thing I know for sure is that I don’t have all the answers! I also know that truth is subjective and changeable. I invite you to consider all opinions with an open mind, “weigh them” in your own value system and then decide what to do with your conclusions. We will return to the metaphor of language in a later blog!

I promised last week that we would begin to discuss childhood patterns, this is a big topic so we are likely to be visiting and re-visiting this from multiple angles.

I’d like to start by sharing a quote from one of the discussions this week. It comes from James Lawley, many of you will know him as he is a regular speaker at NLP conferences and writes for many different outlets.

“Many people’s signals and feelings are so distorted they have no internal reference points they can rely on. I remember one person who truly felt they were “starving” if they hadn’t eaten for two hours.” 

This is a phenomena I have experienced myself and heard from others on workshops. So let’s start by considering what James is referring to. Our bodies are designed to send us signals that tell us when to eat, rest, run away from danger or fight our corner amongst other things. Many of us have de-sensitised or re-assigned some of our internal signals based on our experiences. For most people this happens in childhood.

Have you ever heard a parent (perhaps even yourself) tell a child they are either hungry or tired when they begin to act out and have a tantrum?

This is really common and almost always the parent is acting with a positive intent. It is important to teach children how to manage their behaviour and emotions in society however there are a number of responses that have become generational that may be creating internal confusion. If a child is acting out do we really know if they are tired or hungry? Do we know for sure that they are not experiencing anger or distress or something else entirely?

When we tell a child she is hungry when she shows an emotion we create an association. Children assume the grown-ups in their lives know more than they do. If a primary caregiver tells them they are hungry and then gives them some food they form an association. The act of giving the child food will often interrupt or distract whatever emotion they were experiencing which re-enforces the suggestion that they were hungry and that food was the solution.

Reflect on that for a moment. Negative emotional response + food = feeling goes away. This sets up a whole stimulus response pattern around uncomfortable emotions. In NLP we call this anchoring. Over time this will strengthen into feelings of comfort that come from eating food. Very quickly we jump straight from the emotion to an impulse to eat, we may not even register that we were experiencing a negative emotion.

As you can see from this example some childhood patterns that create unwanted weight gain are the result of ordinary emotional experiences rather than traumatic and abusive childhoods. Later in the series we will look at the more trauma based responses as they tend to be more complex.

So what do you do if you recognise this is one of your patterns?

The first step is to start collapsing the anchor between emotional responses and eating. You can begin by simply asking yourself a question whenever you reach for food.

“Am I hungry for food right now?”

Pause, check in with your body. If the answer is “yes” do a reality check, from a physiological perspective how long is it since you last ate and what did you eat? If the answer is still “yes” to the question “am I hungry?” eat something. If the answer is “no” do something else.

Get yourself a journal and write down whatever comes to mind if you realise that you are emotionally hungry. You could also reach out to an appropriate person for support, and choosing the right person is essential.  I’ll talk more about that in later blogs when we talk about support networks.

This next point is really important! If you still eat after identifying that your pattern is running be gentle with yourself. At the beginning it is enough to recognise that a pattern is running. This alone will help you start to make adjustments. I believe the majority of people need some kind of emotional assistance from others to move through and transform these patterns. The patterns are powerful and have been with you for a long time. Self awareness is a fantastic first step, now plug into the support you need.

I’d like to share a little more from James’ discussion on the subject:

“- Successful people learn to handle the paradox between responding to the in-the-moment sensations compared to the very long-term effects (years if not decades) 
– Very often, if not always, people who have been trying to lose weight over a long period will have found ways to deceive themselves. Being able to continually face “current reality”, recognise how they deceive themselves, and put in place strategies to counter their own deceptions. (e.g. “undeniable evidence”).” 

This ties into the importance of identifying your own childhood patterns and to use James’ words recognise how to “face the current reality”. Start to develop strategies that will re-condition what for you have been natural responses.

There are many interventions you could consider and NLP is just one of them. With help from an NLP practitioner you could for instance look at collapsing the anchor to re-condition the old stimulus response pattern, you could build strong positive anchors, change internal ways of thinking or re-decide key moments on your time line.

A book reference I recommend from the personal development field is Geneen Roth’s book “Feeding the Hungry Heart”. This book was published over 20 years ago and yet still has a great deal of relevance. Many of the emotional programmes and books around today use ideas that she has been writing about for decades (often without referencing!).

There is more to say about childhood patterns so I will come back to this later, for now let me have your thoughts and experiences. BTW if you are a parent who recognises the above pattern, let yourself off the hook. I’m sure your intentions were positive and you probably learnt the pattern from your own parents. An alternative could be to ask the child what the tears or shouting are about instead of labelling. No guarantees though! Parenting is a tough job!

For those of you interested in finding out more about NLP, here’s a quick reminder about our 2 day free introductions to NLP. We have one planned for November in Sussex and another in Bedfordshire in December. For more information check our website:


We also have NLP Practitioner, Master Practitioner and NLP Trainer’s Training for those of you further along in your journey. In the New Year I will be launching my own pilot programme putting my ideas into action around having the body shape and size you desire.

Speak to you next week :0)

About Melody @ GWizlearning

Melody spent fourteen years gathering experience of the business world working in banking, telecommunications and the public sector before co-founding The GWiz Learning Partnership in 1993. Melody has a Masters Degree in Applied Positive Psychology, a degree in Psychology and a diploma in Psychotherapy. She is an NLP Master Trainer which allows her to run NLP Practitioner, NLP Master Practitioner and NLP Trainer Training courses certified by the Positive School of Intrinsic Neuro-Linguistc Psychology. She is also a qualified Myers Briggs practitioner and EI practitioner and added to all this is five years Transactional Analysis training, meaning she is able to help organisations access the hidden potential in their staff. She is also in demand for her work in transforming average or even troubled teams into high performers. Melody is a visiting lecturer at University of East London, teaching "Wellbeing and Positive Psychology" to undergraduates. Additionally, she is a member of the CIPD and is ILM accredited. Melody's interests are many and varied. She has a keen interest in personal development, canine and wolf psychology, conservation, movies and running. She also enjoys western horse riding, walking the GWiz dogs, nature watching and stage combat (particularly sword fighting).
This entry was posted in Emotional Awareness, Life in General, Metaphor, NLP, NLP Master Practitioner, NLP Practitioner, NLP Trainer's Training, Perception, Personal Development, Reality, Weight loss and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to When food equals comfort!

  1. Although some of this can be blamed on emotional factors, I believe a lot of it is down to people eating too many carbs (especially white sugar and wheat) and not enough nutrient rich food. Learning to make the right food choices is a bit portion of learning to love ourselves. Don’t just eat ‘something’ – eat the right thing… If you do, you will send the message to your inner child that you are willing to begin nurturing yourself properly.

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