End Emotional Eating for Good
Every single day we experience a spectrum of emotions. Some are comfortable, and others less so. Some emotions scare us. It’s usually the big ones. These are the ones that shock and unsettle us – intense anger, hurt, sadness or anxiety. Sadly, so many of us have been conditioned to have an unhealthy relationship with the more intense emotions, which is often the main cause of our stress and struggle.
We also can tend to panic and often overlook other emotions lying underneath our stress or anxiety. For instance, let’s say you have a job interview coming up and you feel tense and worried. If you sit with those emotions a while, and delve a little deeper beneath the fear, you may find that there’s excitement and joy there too (in fact, many psychologists say that joy lies right next to anxiety). You could be at a crossroads in your life, where you really need a change, and this could be it.
Raised by well-meaning but limited adults who resisted experiencing or displaying their own uncomfortable emotions, we often learn to avoid expressing or feeling or emotions fully or freely. For instance, we may have been taught that some emotions are ‘positive’ and others are ‘negative’. As children, we then learn to suppress, rather than express uncomfortable feelings. We are told ‘don’t cry – here, have this biscuit’ or ‘I can’t look at you – go to your room’. We don’t realise it but this is often at the heart of our unhealthy relationship with food. And this is not just limited to women. Listen to our podcast about men and emotional eating here.
We literally ‘stuff down’ the uncomfortable emotions, or we resist or try to control and suppress them. In doing so, we can even suppress the joyful emotions and this can lead to lower energy, depression and anxiety. It is understandable then that we may resort to emotional eating in order to ‘numb’ our difficult feelings (we also use alcohol or drugs in the same way) and to self-soothe or comfort ourselves. But it’s never too late to change this tendency. To end emotional eating, the answer lies in the opposite behaviour to what we often want to do, which is to turn away from those feelings. Instead, we need to learn to embrace, accept them and even welcome them (see Rumi’s poem below).
Open to all the Emotions
The more emotions we ‘let in’ and experience – by no longer resisting them from surfacing – the greater our energy and the greater our ability to step away from food as a source of comfort – we simply won’t need it as much. By accepting ALL of our emotions, and not judging ourselves for having them or labelling them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, we create the energy we need to heal, create and grow. These five simple steps will help you to shift from suppressing to acceptance of emotions and more importantly will help you to end emotional eating:
- Be curious: instead of berating yourself for feeling ‘negative’ emotions, try to shift into curiosity. Say to yourself, ‘That’s interesting that I’m feeling that way – I wonder what that’s telling me?’. You’re not a bad person to feel jealousy, hatred or any of the so-called ‘negative’ emotions. It’s just how you feel; it’s okay.
- Prioritise sleep: when you are going through emotional highs and lows, it’s crucial that your body is well rested and working at its optimum in order to handle and process all those emotions. Turn off screens for an hour before bedtime, stick to a wind-down routine and aim to go to bed and rise at the same time (more or less) each day in order to balance your circadian rhythm.
- Start journaling: get all those emotions down on the page, and free from judgement. A good time to do this is during your wind-down before bed as it frees the emotions and assists with a more restful sleep.
- Consider meditation or mindfulness: so often we are in our heads, rather than in our hearts. Having repetitive negative thoughts is a sure sign that we need to ground ourselves, get into the moment and turn down the volume on our thoughts. Read here about how meditation can help with weight control:
- Use your mood to propel into action: rather than ruminate or stay in a bad mood, think ‘what can I for myself right now to help?’. This is a step that entails ‘managing’, rather than suppressing emotions. It could include some self-care steps, or the decision to do make some changes in your life to benefit your mood (such as changing job, getting more regular exercise or asking for/paying for more help or support to make things easier day-to-day). Read more about how exercise can boost mood here.
A Poem to Help
Often recited in mindfulness circles, The Guest House (Rumi) is a reminder not to resist the thoughts and emotions passing through you but to try to meet them with courage, warmth and even respect. These seemingly unwelcome guests in the guesthouse of your mind can help clear out all that is untrue or unhelpful. But you need to let them in to do their work. And, like all guests, they’ll eventually leave as well.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Jalaluddin Rumi, translation by Coleman Barks