Your struggle with emotional eating may go something like this…
If I could just find the right way to eat I won’t have cravings.
If I could just gain some more willpower I would be stronger and I could resist my urges.
If I could just detox from addictive/sugary foods I would be free.
If I could just stick with something long enough for it to take.
If I could just get to the bottom of why I struggle with emotional eating and don’t stay on my diet I wouldn’t have a food problem.
What’s so wrong with this way of thinking?
These all seem like reasonable thoughts, if you’re starting from a diet mentality where the focus is on the food.
But, when we’re working on healing emotional eating from the viewpoint of Conscious Eating, it’s a whole other world out there. Fortunately, it’s a truly helpful, growth oriented and healing relationship with yourself, food and your body.
The struggle with emotional eating
The struggle with emotional eating needs to shift away from the food and to be put back on developing a richer awareness of your emotions and most importantly what to do with them so you don’t need emotional eating anymore.
You probably have a pretty good idea about what “healthy” eating is. Since you’re reading this online, you have access to lots of great nutritional information from a variety of sources.
It’s not really about getting the nutrition right, so that you’ll then have more control – that’s an illusion. The illusion is that you can control the struggle with emotional eating through the food.
There are even nutritional perspectives that believe that if the food is the problem, then change the food. If it was this easy you would have accomplished this already.
But, the hard truth is that it isn’t really the food that’s the problem. The problem is the feelings that you’re unable to identify, make sense of and then find some resolution with, that then fuel your struggle with emotional eating.
Your struggle with emotional eating is a struggle with identifying or naming your specific feelings – the nitty gritty ones, more than, “I’m mad or angry” to the finer points like, “I’m feeling frustrated and disappointed that my thoughts and feelings aren’t being acknowledged and taken into account when a decision is made.”
That awareness requires a different type of response than one that is simply anger. It requires you to become more thoughtful. To assess what you need, take into consideration what is best for you and to do all of this you probably won’t be thinking about food too much.
If your attention does shift to food, it could be for comfort, distraction, habit, etc. That’s OK, now that you know what’s going on and what the cycle is, you have the ability to choose to eat or not.
You can assess your hunger or fullness.
You can assess if you want to eat a bit of comfort food or a lot and consider how you might feel and then choose if it’s an activity you want to participate in or if there might be something else that would feel better.
The good news is that these are all a decisions you are consciously making, one feeling at a time.
This increased knowledge or awareness about what’s at the heart of ending the struggle with emotional eating.
When you develop the skills to calm your initial reactions and harness the energy from your desire to end emotional eating to get to know your own internal reactions better, you’re well on your way to ending the struggle with emotional eating.
It’s the emotional awareness that leads to ending the struggle with emotional eating.
It’s also naming the feelings that get in the way of nourishing yourself with food as well as all of the non-food ways of nourishing yourself, like rest, friendship, hobbies, physical activity, dancing, reading, etc. so you can develop a different way of being.
This might sound a little overwhelming at this point, but let’s break it down into more manageable parts.
How do you create the emotional space between yourself and the food to figure out what you need?
Like any skill worth learning there is at least one process to help you on your path out of emotional eating and toward becoming a Conscious Eater.
3 ways to shift your relationship with yourself and stop the struggle with emotional eating.
1. Slow down, breathe, and allow yourself to re-connect with the glimmer of peace that rests inside of you.
There’s a part of you, no matter how small or how long it’s been since you’ve experienced it, that has felt even a small amount of peace. As you move forward with slowing down so you can calm, create space, quite yourself, it’s OK to go slow and try out different aspects of what “finding peace” means to you.
Creating a restful place inside yourself is a process. No one is perfect at it and sometimes it’s easier than at other times to tap into the peace and that’s OK too.
Calming yourself is a skill that you can learn at any time in life. It’s also a skill, like any other that gets easier with practice.
The goal is to give your mind and heart a little space so you can identify the feeling you’re experiencing.
2. Identify the most frequently experienced feeling that leads to emotional eating.
The next step is to identify the feeling you most readily identify when you struggle with emotional eating.
When you begin the process of identifying your feelings you’ll start out with the general feelings like, mad, sad, angry, etc. This is a good starting point.
Now that you’ve got the general feeling identified, you can spend a little time breaking it down into smaller parts. Maybe thinking about the feeling from different viewpoints as a way of fine tuning how you really feel.
One tool a lot of my coaching clients use is the feelings vocabulary list below.
Use the list as a way to increase your emotional vocabulary and try on, so to speak, some of the feelings. Look up the dictionary definition and see if it fits. You might even find different words as you do a little investigation into your feelings. This is good.
The more specific the feeling, the closer you can get to taking care of you and the feeling in a way the feels satisfying.
This part of the process can bring a lot of relief and actually be a bit of fun too. It’s very freeing to know exactly how you feel. It provides a pathway toward feeling better. It gives you direction for improving your relationship with others and most importantly with yourself.
3. Now that you’ve identified the feeling you can develop your plan.
This is the truly life changing part of the process. Changing the way you take care of yourself-from emotional eating, that is only a temporary solution to the long term, identifying and managing your emotions so that you have choices about how you respond to your emotions is true freedom. You are in control, not the vague feelings that give your power over to the food. The struggle for freedom is hard fought and the win is that your relationship with yourself is grounded in the peace that you have the ability to make great choices for yourself. What happens when you’re back in control, is that the power over you that the food seems to have is lost.
Your plan for identifying your feelings could look like this:
- Acknowledge the discomfort you feel.
- Take a deep breath and give yourself some space. If it’s not an emergency, you don’t need to treat it like one, you have time.
- Identify are you hungry, tired, thirsty? If it’s not physical then…
- Identify the event you’re feeling uncomfortable about. Is it work, home, or your relationship with yourself?
- What is the “big” overall feeling? This feeling could be the overall summary of how you’re feeling. Break it down now. Use the feeling vocabulary list to try out some more nuanced feelings and see if something more precise fits. You might have a few emotions or just one and either way is great.
- Now, what fits better for the more precise feeling?
- Thinking about self-care and what will help you move forward in a positive, relationship enhancing way? Take action.
- Do you need a mindset shift?
- Do you need to have a conversation with someone?
- Do you need to use a different set of skills when the feeling comes around again?
As you read this in a very linear way, it’s very nice a neatly laid out in a step by step process. But, as we know emotions aren’t that way. They are messy and confusing and may feel very strong one instant and then morph into something else a few minutes later. This is OK.
The process for identifying your feelings is often one of mulling things over time. You can come back to it when you realize another aspect later.
As you work on your emotional life and your relationship with yourself you will get faster and more efficient at naming how you feel.
When you take the first step, you’re that much closer to being there!