• Claire Sutcliffe

How To Handle Conflict Without Comfort Eating

Updated: Mar 28

Conflict is one of the most common triggers for emotional eaters. But, remembering a few simple rules, can help you can stay in control of your emotions so you don't get triggered.

There’s no such thing as a relationship without conflict. It’s a part of life and is not necessarily a bad thing as it means something (a belief, opinion, value, preference, need or want) is worth fighting for.


What matters is how you do it and what you do with your feelings. If you handle conflict well and use the right communication it can even be good for your relationships as it builds understanding, respect, and closeness.


Some emotional eaters fear conflict because they don’t know how to handle it or they have only experienced situations that cause hurt, resentment, hostility and separation. Or they may believe that any form of disagreement is invalidating. One of my emotional eaters once told me that disagreement felt like a lack of love, which shook her to the core. She felt alone, abandoned, stupid and afraid and sought comfort in food, because asking for a hug or reassurance from the person who had just 'hurt' her was not an option.


Sometimes keeping the peace may seem like a solution as that way you won’t need comforting. But this strategy might backfire in the long term as holding back is a form of dishonesty. If you say things like, it’s not a big deal, or, it’ll blow over eventually, you are avoiding conflict by denying there’s a problem or maybe you are valuing short term gains over the long-term benefits of a more honest relationship.


If the relationship is worth the effort, confrontation skills are essential and get easier if you have the right skills. Here are a few tips to help you:


  • Try to control your anger and avoid blaming. If you say things like, ‘You are so out of control. You always do this!’ You are trying to shame the other person to get your way.

  • Try to avoid a winner mentality. If you need to have the last word or you need to validate yourself by believing you’re right, you will either cause the other person to defend their position or you will diminish them in some way because to win, someone must lose. Using power struggles and bullying tactics to confront is not good for the long term health of the relationship.

  • Don’t say sorry unless you mean it. A genuine apology demonstrates humility and empathy. A fake sorry is an attempt to let the other person think they’ve won, just to stop the fight. Although it looks harmonious on the surface, underneath lies apathy, a loss of love or a fear of aloneness. If you carry on the argument later by trying to annoy the other person, you are being passive-aggressive. For example 'I’m sorry I said your mum was evil. She tries her best. Let’s go for dinner now (smiling sweetly).' But when you get there you sulk, complain of a headache, refuse to eat, and drink lots of wine.

  • Healthy conflict won't upset you or trigger emotional dysregulation and comfort eating if it's not competitive, angry, passive-aggressive, apathetic or controlling. If you intend to resolve differences to get along better, it will strengthen your boundaries and help to heal you from emotional eating.


"One thing I have learned from being an obese child, overweight adult, and now a healthy weight adult, is: the problem isn't weight, it is pain." - Katie Willcox

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