Have you ever thought of yourself an emotional eater? (Really, haven’t we all?) Starting when we’re very young, we learn to go to food as a first response to any kind of discomfort. And the message gets repeated and repeated our whole life: Is there an emotion you don’t want to feel? Or do want to feel? Food can help with that! Feeling sad or squirmy or tense or jittery? Must be hunger! And it really does help… in the short term at least, food eases and distracts. But as we all know, it doesn’t work so well in the big picture or long term, because it’s not what food’s for, and our body reminds us of that in ways we don’t love (extra weight, hypoglycemia, indigestion - all the chronic health issues that food can cause).
Please, please don’t get down on yourself for the choice you’ve learned to make - it’s easy, it works, and it’s reinforced constantly. Feelings are tricky to figure out and food helps us get in (or out of!) touch with them reliably and effectively. You’re one smart cookie (pun intended, sorry).
Here are the two most common ways we learn to process emotions -
- notice them, name them, talk about them
- push them down as a weakness and distraction
Is either one familiar to you? Sometimes we do one and not the other, some of us do both. But here’s the new part for me: there’s a way to experience emotions that interrupts the need to use food (with practice). There’s a third way I’m learning more about that feels like a helpful missing piece:
3. feel them in your body
Have you ever felt what happy or sad or mad or lonely feels like, just in your BODY? Where do you feel it, specifically? How does it feel? Lumpy? Tight? Jittery? What does it make you naturally want to do? Curl up? Clench? Growl? Something else? And also notice anywhere you DON’T feel it? Is there a part of your body that isn’t affected by the feeling? Knowing where it ISN’T can help when it gets too strong and you want a break. Maybe you can go to your toes or elbows or wherever there’s some quiet for a rest. Practice this for difficult and also good emotions. What does pride FEEL like? How about happiness?
When you try, you’ll quickly notice that the old habits I mentioned (#1 and #2 above) will want to crowd in and take the wheel. You might want to name the feeling, or explain it, judge or defend it, react to it with thoughts, opinions, ideas. Or you might want to stuff it away and get “back in control.” And that’s okay - notice that strong habit, then gently but firmly move it aside while you try something new. Those habits aren’t invited to this party. Just BE with the emotion in your body, physically, until your body is done. How long? Who knows - but your body will tell you!
See if that experience over the next days or weeks provides any direct release/relief. Then you can get back to using food in its starring role: fuel for that beautiful body of yours. No more, no less. <3