The Silent Struggle: Comfort Eating

By Meru Hussain

My favourite story from childhood was ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ –  A story of a creature who satisfies his every desire before blooming into a beautiful butterfly, devouring everything from apples to ice-creams. I wanted to be that caterpillar.

I ate.

I ate when I was hungry.

I ate when I was sad.

I ate when I was bored.

I ate everything I wanted, just never what I needed.

The metamorphism didn’t take place; but the child in me grew and so did the eating habits.

I allowed myself to eat whatever I wanted, so long as it was ‘halal’. I would nibble on delicate appetisers, eat generous portions of my favourite food, indulge in delicious desserts without thinking of the consequences. I grew up like that, not noticing the effect the food I was consuming was having on my body; a body which has been entrusted to me, an amaanah which will be returned. I didn’t give the ‘why’ of eating much thought then, but there comes a point in your life where you must stop and take account of how you got this far, where you analyse the decisions that led you to where you are today; and ask yourself the question, are you the best of you?

The answers may or may not come immediately– in my case it was like the caterpillar crawling slowly, searching and seeking. I was eating for comfort because it made me feel good, or so I thought….In fact, many foods which have become a staple on our shopping lists have now been linked to anxiety and depression . Many of us may be seeking comfort in foods which are harmful long-term, off-setting the temporary relief we may think they bring.

I once went to a ‘taster’ session of a tafsir class and the teacher covered the ayahs of Surah Baqarah which mention the Bani Israel; their indifference to ‘Manna and Salwa’ – the provision that Allaah had given them, and their demands for varied foods (2:58-64). Whilst reflecting on these ayahs I began thinking of how similar we are to Bani Israel today – we have an abundance of food available to us, yet we seek more to satisfy our desires, not our need.

The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: The son of Adam does not fill any vessel worse than his stomach. It is sufficient for the son of Adam to eat a few mouthfuls, to keep him going. If he must do that (fill his stomach), then let him fill one third with food, one third with drink and one third with air.” Narrated by al-Tirmidhi (2380); classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in al-Silsilah al-Saheehah (2265).

I tried several times to implement a diet that would help me make a lasting change, but I lost motivation quite quickly and soon spiralled back into a state of eating for comfort. I believed that my circumstances did not allow me to eat healthily, that it took too much time and preparation, and the excuses went on…After a while, I began to question why, despite knowing the after effects of the food I consumed, I still continued eating it. I was tired of being tired , I badly wanted to make a lifestyle change; but I just didn’t know how to go about achieving it.

It was several years later whilst I was doing an online course that the sheikh told us a story about a man who was drowning. Some people on a boat nearby tried to rescue him, saying ‘give us your hand’ but the man refused to do so. The people continued in this way until one man on the boat eventually said take my hand’ to which the drowning man responded and was finally saved. The moral of the story- we are takers by nature, not givers. A simple change of language can change the narrative of life. I realised that changing my mindset from ‘losing weight’ to ‘gaining health’ was what I needed to renew my intention.

It took lots of dua, determination and some effort to achieve this.  Before, whenever I had attempted a diet, the reason behind it was to be slim, look and feel good according to what society had stipulated, but without a thought as to what Allah, the One Who gave me this body, had decreed.

Allaah says, “and eat and drink but waste not by extravagance, certainly He (Allaah) likes not Al-Musrifoon (those who waste by extravagance)” [al-A’raaf 7:31]

I wish I could tell you that I have made a lifestyle change and I have stuck with this approach but that’s not MY truth. I have learnt to accept that this is also part of my journey. I am still struggling to change my diet, to make it consistent, but because my perception of WHY I am doing this has found the light, I am walking now, not crawling. I have accepted that although I am struggling, Al Haleem is still forbearing toward me. Whereas before, I would slump back to my normal habits and stay there, now I take every day as a new opportunity to quench my thirst for change.

When eating wholesome and nutritious food, I have more energy and I take that as a sign from Allah; A sign that if I want to improve my worship I must improve from the inside out, paying attention to how I feed my body and soul.

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Take up good deeds only as much as you are able, for the best deeds are those done regularly even if they are few.” (Source: Sunan Ibn Mājah 4240 Grade: Sahih (authentic) according to Al-Albani)

It may be that you are able to make a complete change, and if that’s you, then good for you. But if you are silently struggling like me and eating for comfort to numb your emotions, then know this: the screams will get louder until you will eventually have to face them.

Have you ever been inspired by stories from the time of the Prophet peace and blessings be upon him, and then wondered why we can’t seem to achieve the same level of results in our own lives? I believe that one of the reasons is that our spiritual forefathers would eat for energy, as an act of worship to feed and nourish the body in order to maintain it and use it for the pleasure of Allaah – not as a hobby or to cope with stress or whatever other emotion was trying to consume them. They did not seek to fulfil or numb their spiritual needs through physical means that were never designed for that purpose. It took me years to properly understand the ayah ‘Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves’. We are taught to look inward, so look carefully at what you are feeding your body- this vessel that is carrying your soul.

If your soul has to deal with your expanding physical form, then it is most likely dehydrated from the worship of Allah.

Look after your body, this trust that has been given to you. The effects of illness drain your soul and your ability to worship. As in the words of Imam Shaafi’i, ‘Health is a crown that the healthy wear, but only the sick can see it.’ Expressing gratitude is not limited to the tongue saying ‘Alhumdulillah’ it is preserving the health you are gifted and bringing all your limbs in inward and outward submission to your Lord. When we adopt the mindset that, “by nourishing my body, I am worshipping my Lord” we will feel how nurturing this is for our soul and transform our relationship with food.

Let’s take back our purpose, own it, submit to it and then watch the barakah flow from inside us, filtering through to our health and our rizq. Understand the ‘why’ behind the hunger pangs, the boredom behind the snack and  the emotion behind the portion. You focus on the effort and Allah will focus on the reward, in this life and the next.

There are plenty of resources for healthy eating to help you- both monetary and free. You don’t need to look at the destination, rather, focus on the journey because happiness lies in the small things. May Allah facilitate this journey for you. Ameen.

About the author:

Meru is a mother of 2 with a background in IT currently working on her own personal development and is a community activist. She is pursuing a passion of writing and blogs on her Instagram page musingsofmeru.


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