As humans, we experience a wide range of emotions, some stronger than others. There are those of us however, who do not wish to feel our emotions. We want to stuff them back down, smother them, and make them go away. As emotional eaters, when one of these emotions starts to surface, our first reaction is to reach for that food; “please, make it go away, I don’t want to feel that!”
We can go on like this for years, in fact we can span our life in this manner. The problem is that if we live like this, we are not fully experiencing life, we aren’t giving ourselves the chance to shine, to be who we truly are. Emotions are a part of the human experience. In order to be fully conscious and present, we must allow ourselves to feel.
What if we are afraid to feel, afraid of all that may be lurking beneath the surface? Perhaps we have things in our past that we don’t want to think about, we just want to forget. If we don’t acknowledge them, they will just go away, right? That is where we are wrong. Whatever it is that we are trying to ignore, it won’t go away, in fact, it will only try harder and harder to be heard. It’s like a child who is being ignored. He will only cry louder, scream, and then shout the more he is ignored. He will be heard, and if you continue to ignore him, he will resort to negative behavior, anything to get your attention. This is what it is like to ignore that which you are trying to deny and cover up with the excess food. It won’t go away, it will still be there, no matter how much food you eat.
So what do you do if your feelings are simply too overwhelming for you, if you haven’t allowed yourself to feel for decades? (Yes, there are numerous individuals who exist in this manner.) First, you must be willing to change, to begin to release that which is knocking and dieing to be heard. If you are simply terrified of what you may find, it may be best to seek out a professional who can guide you through the process of feeling once again. There is no shame is getting professional help. When you know that you deserve to be fully alive and present in your life, there is no reason why you should not avail yourself of the help of a trained professional who can assist you within a safe environment.
Feeling our feelings won’t kill us, it’s more so that not feeling our feelings will, as we continue to attempt to stuff them down with an overabundance of food. Our emotions aren’t going to go away. They are patient and will wait as long as it takes until we are ready to listen. An affirmation from one of my favorite authors/teachers Louise L. Hay is: “It is only a feeling, it will pass”. If you allow yourself to sit with the feeling and just feel it, instead of trying to run from it and cover it up with food, you may be amazed to find that you do not fall apart, you are still intact, and the feeling does eventually pass.
Feelings can be fickle, here one moment, gone the next. If we reach for that food based on a feeling that may be replaced by another one in five minutes (or much less!), why not sit with it now, and just feel it? A thought that I like to remember is “If it’s coming up, it’s on its way out”. Whatever you feel is coming up to be felt; if you allow it, it will pass, it just wants to be heard so it can be on its way. It only wants to be heard, just like a child does.
Try this the next time you find yourself about to reach for food for emotions rather than hunger:
- Grab your notebook or journal and set a timer for 10 minutes.
- Sit quietly and breath slowly and deeply to calm yourself.
- Notice what you are feeling.
- In your journal, jot down how you are feeling whether you feel numbness, anger, sadness, whatever you feel, write it down.
- Continue to write about how you are feeling while continuing your deep breathing. Try to remain calm while at the same time feeling your emotions.
- If you feel the need to cry then do so, if you are angry, pound that pillow (obviously you are doing this exercise at home, rather than at work 😉 ).
- Keep writing, remaining conscious of your emotions until your timer goes off.
- After your timer goes off, if you still want to eat then go ahead, while maintaining the awareness that you are eating in the attempt to make yourself feel better.
- Strive to avoid feeling guilty if you do eat at this time, reminding yourself that you are now in the process of change, and that you initially learned to eat emotionally as a way to cope.
Once you have completed this exercise, even if you eat for emotional reasons at the end, you have still taken a very large step towards healing. In order to change, you must first be conscious of the self-destructive behavior that you have been participating in. Then you can take responsibility for what you have created, and you will be able to move on and change it.
The next step is committing to yourself that every time prior to engaging in emotional eating, you will execute this exercise. Set a time limit, perhaps of one week, after which time you will then increase the timer to 15 minutes. If you found that you were not able to complete the first exercise for longer than 5 minutes, then increase your next level to 10 minutes. The main point is that you are committing to the exercise (which will only serve you positively), no matter what time level you initially begin with. Those feelings that so desperately want to have your attention must be recognized in order for them to be “cleaned out”. Even though it may be scary and not feel good much of the time, “the only way out is through”, and the way out is to feel your emotions.
Your goal with this exercise is not to “solve” your emotions, it is only to feel, and to affirm to yourself that “it is only a feeling, it will pass”. Feelings are not a judgment; they are only feelings, however you need to allow yourself to experience them so that they can be released. The more you release the old feelings that you have been stuffing with food, the less you will have the need to eat over your emotions. The more you feel, the less fear you will have of those emotions that you were trying to cover up with food, thereby releasing the need to continue the cover up.