We turn to food for so many reasons other than physical hunger don’t we?
When we are stressed we reach for chocolate. When we’ve had a bad day we open the biscuits. When we are overwhelmed with life in that moment we distract ourselves with the contents of the kitchen cupboards, vending machine or supermarket aisle. And temporarily we may feel better.
But the reality is that food, in that moment, is really a substitute for something else.
Chocolate becomes a substitute for relaxation and a moment to just breath in-between the monotonous yet busy day which has now become your life
Cake becomes a substitute for switching off from the overwhelm and the 1001 bubble gum thoughts in your mind which stick and won’t disappear (no matter how many times you write them down or try and ignore them)
Wine becomes a substitute for self care after you’ve been rushing around like a mad ass women all day and only had chance to sit down now (and it’s almost your bedtime!)
We end up feeding our feelings without truly recognising it.
When I struggled with emotional eating for approximately 14 years, I always believed that I was somehow to blame. I blamed my lack of willpower. My lack of commitment. My lack of discipline. And a multitude of other reasons. I never once stepped back from what I was doing to actually see it for what it truly was.
It was symbolic. It was metaphoric. It was symptomatic.
It wasn’t about the food.
It was never about the food
So I have a question for you. How many times have you found yourself halfway through a packet of biscuits and felt so guilty for doing what you do, but you carry on eating them until they have all been finished? How many times have you found yourself eating two slices of cake, so ashamed of what you were doing but you carried on eating until it’s all gone? And how many times have you been so fixated and obsessed about trying to stop eating, that you found yourself eating even more? Kind of ironic don’t you think?
So what if now you could start seeing this for what it really is? And what I mean by that, is looking past the food COMPLETELY to see what is going on underneath the surface and behind that behaviour?
As human beings we are constantly connected to our feelings and emotions, and that is a great thing when we know how to embrace them and feel them, yet for many of us we don’t.
We hate to feel anxious so we numb out of that feeling and avoid it
We don’t like the discomfort of worry so we numb out and avoid having to feel it
We don’t like the way that anger makes us feel so once again, you’ve guessed it, we numb out so we don’t have to feel it.
And there are many ways of numbing out, food is just one of them. Some of us numb out with alcohol, smoking, shopping, social media, trashy tv shows, drugs, sex, and the list goes on.
Now there is nothing fundamentally wrong with doing this. I did this for 14 years. However, what I have learnt is that in order to move through life feeling balanced, in control and actually happier, we have to get to a place where we can feel comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.
We can all find comfort within our own discomfort
The truth of the matter is that our emotions and feelings are actually our own unique internal compass, a bit like an internal guiding system which is showing us what is needing and requiring our attention at any given moment.
When we feel anxious there is a reason for it.
When we feel worried there is a reason for it.
When we feel angry then once again there is a reason for it.
Yet sadly most of us don’t ever explore the reason for it, because we are too busy stuffing our faces with biscuits and crisps and cake.
Now as a disclaimer I just want to mention once again that this behaviour is not fundamentally wrong, it’s simply a coping strategy which many of us end up adopting for what ever reason, and to be fair I don’t think it’s entirely possible to get rid of emotional eating completely, nor intact should any of us want to. There will always be a part of emotional eating when it comes to food. That is normal. We eat birthday cake to join in with the celebration. You say yes to the biscuit when having a coffee with a friend. These are still moments of emotional eating (as we may not be physically hunger at the time), so to make the clear distinction of what I’m talking about, it’s when we feel out of control in the process.
Quite often the reason why we don’t explore the reasons behind our behaviour is that we have never been taught or shown how to deal with our true feelings. Perhaps you were brought up to not fully express how you feel. Perhaps you were told to just get on with things (that’s a very British stiff upper lip thing). Perhaps you were never exposed to anger and frustration in a healthy way, so naturally you choose to suppress your own anger due to fear or painful memories.
And this isn’t about judging your up bringing or the people involved, it’s simply about bringing it into the conversation to help you maybe fully appreciate what’s going on for you right now within your own story.
Feeding our feelings
Perhaps you can now appreciate why many of us by default end up feeding our feelings. We feel anxious and find ourselves turning to food as a way of metaphorically and physically pushing that feeling down. We may do the same with feeling worried. Feeling angry. Feeling lonely, afraid, overwhelmed, scared and embarassed. I have worked with clients who would do this with literally every feeling or emotion which they felt, from feeling happy and elated to feeling sad and depressed.
So what can we do about it? Well as cliche as it sounds, our feelings need to be felt and not feed.
Which means stepping out of your comfort zone and your default setting of numbing out, and stepping into a momentarily uncomfortable place.
Allowing yourself to feel anxious and perhaps explore the reasons why is not comfortable, of course it isn’t. Yet stuffing that feeling of anxiety down with food is also not comfortable and it’s also never going to help you in the long run. Only stepping into your truth and acknowledging how you feel is the only way that any of us can become truly free from food obsession and ultimately become reconnected back to who we are.
So here are my top tips on how you can start to break the cycle of feeding your feelings.
Breaking the diet rules, stopping the categorising of food and allowing yourself to eat whatever you like as food is no longer good and bad is the very first place to start. Some emotional eating is simply a natural response the deprivation and restriction (if you’ve ever denied yourself chocolate or crisps or cake for any amount of time, eventually you craved them and ended up eating them, probably in quantity. I know I did. Frequently!)
Awareness is key.
Next time you find yourself reaching for food just become aware of why you may be doing it. Become aware of if you are physically hungry, because if you aren’t, the chances are that this is emotional eating, in which case it’s not about the food it’s about something else. Remember emotional eating is about changing your emotional state and we are usually wanting to change a state of discomfort to a state of comfort. i.e. feeling overwhelmed (discomfort) >> eat cake >> feeling happier (comfort albeit it temporary)
Get rid of judgement or criticism.
One of the biggest lessons which I continue to learn for myself, is there is no place for judgement and criticism when we are working on becoming better versions of ourselves. Criticising and judging ourselves never allows us the space to grow, learn and change. Approach this with curiosity. Nothing more. Nothing less. You’ve beaten yourself up for far too long, stop already.
What if you were to give yourself permission to sit with how you feel? To sit in in that place of feeling anxious for two minutes? To sit with that anger? To sit with that loneliness? What do you think would happen? Quite often our perceptions are very different to the reality. And I will be completely honest with you in saying that allowing ourselves to feel how we feel is not always pleasant, however, nothing horrific is going to happen to you or anyone else by doing so. I promise.
In fact the more that you can get into the habit of really feeling how you feel, the sooner those feelings pass. It’s when we resist feeling anxious that the anxiety gets worse (I resisted anxiety for so long that it worsened and turned into panic attacks when I was at uni, incredibly unpleasant)
When we ignore feeling angry we become even more wound up like a tightly coiled spring waiting to explode (and often you may find yourself every once in a while ‘exploding’ and reacting out of context to what happens as all of that ‘stuff’ has to come out eventually) I also recommend that you find other ways of defusing those emotions, especially if they feel really big and overwhelming.
Check out this video on tapping which is use a lot with my clients and also with myself. I’d also suggested a qualified therapist/coach/counsellor if you are really struggling. Give yourself two minutes to feel how you feel and see what happens. You might be surprised
Identify and feed.
If you begin to recognise that there are several emotions and feelings which seem to come up within you fairly frequently, this is a wonderful opportunity for you to explore them and identify why. For when you can identify why, you can then choose what you want to do about it. Perhaps your underlying anxiety is because you feel unsettled with your job or within your relationship. So what can you do about it? You are more in control of your life than you realise right now and nobody needs to stay with things which aren’t making them happy. Do you need to change your job, look at retraining in something else, inject some excitement into your relationship (maybe even find a new relationship which satisfies you on every level?!)
When you have a hungry soul which is starving for something else, (more connection, more excitement, more joy, more pleasure), this is when food becomes a significant piece of the jigsaw puzzle.
Remember it’s not about food, food is symptomatic and symbolic.
So next time you feel guilty and embarrassed and ashamed that you have your hand, once again in the biscuit tin, remember to STEP BACK from the food stuff (liturally and metaphorically) and start giving yourself the space and opportunity to explore what is REALLY going on.
Want some extra help with addressing emotional eating?
I’ve created a free training series on ‘How To Stop Emotional Eating’ just for you, which contains 4 videos to show you how to heal your relationship with food and yourself.
To get started, get the guide here: http://www.rachelfoy.com/emotionaleatinghelp
Missed last week’s post? You can see it here: You Can’t Diet Away Your Problems