Last week, I wrote about how one of the things you need to do if you want to stop eating emotionally is to get back into your body. This week I want to talk about another aspect of halting emotional eating. This time, it’s about listening to what the feelings we avoid feeling might be trying to tell us. We must make sure that we are being heard.
I can’t tell you how many times I reached for food as a way of comforting myself for feeling sad, lonely, lost, uninspired, demoralized, frustrated, stuck (insert any crappy feeling here). I can tell you that once I realized I was emotional eating that it didn’t make it easier to stop.
I can tell you that there were times I knew full well that the eating I was planning on doing was actually going to make me feel worse than I felt to begin with – yet I still shoved handful after handful into my mouth. Feeling physically terrible and emotionally bad about what I just did (eating those feelings!) somehow felt less bad than whatever vague discomfort or frustration I was feeling before. I thought I was eating to feel better yet feeling “better” actually meant making myself feel worse.
The remedy for my uncomfortable feelings was to make myself feel so bad that I forgot for a little while what I was feeling so bad about! And feeling so awful only confirmed for me whatever negative things I was thinking about myself (I’m out of control, I’m a failure, what is wrong with me?) so the urge to do it all over again was stronger the next time I felt bad.
When we use food as comfort or to numb out, we are really trying to find a way to distract us from whatever it is we don’t want to feel.
Why do we need to distract ourselves? Why is feeling unpleasant feelings so awful? Where do we get the idea that there are some feelings too unbearable to feel? What went wrong for so many of us that this is how we deal with bad/negative feelings?
Let’s pretend for a minute that instead of turning to food when we feel something that feels overwhelmingly bad to us, that we decide to just feel that feeling. We don’t try to push it away, avoid it, wall up against it or resist it. What is the worst thing that can happen from feeling that way? Nothing, aside from feeling something uncomfortable for awhile.
There is nothing all that bad about feeling a feeling. It will come over us in waves, sometimes getting stronger before all is said and done (but if you’ve ever been in the ocean, you probably know how to ride a wave back to the shoreline). It’s just a vibration in the body – just a sensation. And all feelings pass. Good feelings pass. Bad feelings pass. We can’t be happy every day, every moment for all of our lives and we certainly won’t have bad feelings every moment of our lives. So why do emotional eaters treat them as if we let them in for one second they’ll never leave? For some, it’s a legit fear of the feeling – they can’t bear to feel it. But for others, it’s more than that.
Part of the reason we avoid uncomfortable feelings is because sometimes those negative feelings have a message for us and we might not be ready to listen, because listening to them means we need to do something about it. The message is that something needs to change and only you know what that something might be.
The need to run away is because those feelings might be trying to communicate that there is something in our lives that we need to change. Maybe we’re unfulfilled by our current situation or our potential is being limited by a job, a relationship, our way of thinking, destructive habits or something else. Uncomfortable feelings are the harbingers of a problem we are concealing.
Sometimes making necessary changes is scary and overwhelming so since we aren’t ready to face it, we push the message away and send back a message of our own. The act of overeating to avoid feelings is a message we relay to ourselves that says:
- “I don’t want to listen to what you have to say.”
- “You’re not worth the effort.”
- “No one cares.”
- “Shut up.”
- “Your needs aren’t important.”
By not dealing with our feelings and turning to food instead, we are conveying to an important part of ourselves that he or she isn’t worth being heard.
This brings up the question, if at our core WE are not willing to listen to ourselves, where else in our lives are we not being heard? Not expressing ourselves? Where else in our lives are we feeling silenced or silencing ourselves? Putting our needs last? Feeling ignored? Feeling stifled?
How can we expect to get anything we want or need in life or from those around us if we are not even willing to listen to ourselves?
If you aren’t willing to express your feelings to yourself, it’s very likely you aren’t expressing them in other parts of your life either.
When was the last time you asked for a raise at work? When was the last time you communicated to your partner your needs? When was the last time you sent back a meal at a restaurant that wasn’t how you wanted? Do you think of yourself as a “people pleaser”? If you see yourself in any of this, I’m sure you can add some of your own examples.
At the beginning of this blog post I said that once I realized I was emotional eating that it didn’t make it easier to stop. That’s true. But once I realized that I was silencing myself by ignoring my feelings with food it became harder to view my actions with the same harsh judgement. It opened up a door to kindness – which is essential to moving past it.
Think about this. You’re at a party where you don’t know many people. You finally see someone you do know but they’re in a group having a conversation. You walk over to the group and wait for an opportunity to say hello to your acquaintance and introduce yourself to the others. You make eye contact with your acquaintance and believe they recognize you. Finally there is a pause in the conversation so you start to speak – but as soon as you do, your acquaintance puts their hand up and talks over you. You wait for additional pauses so you can have your turn but the same thing happens again, and again, each time the person speaking talks louder to drown you out. You leave the party feeling invisible, awkward and like you weren’t heard at all.
It feels horrible to feel like we aren’t being heard.
In real life, we would feel so ashamed to treat someone else like the acquaintance treats us in the example, but we do it to ourselves all the time! We wouldn’t do it to another person, so why do we do it to ourselves?
I know many of you reading this will recognize yourself in this. Do you think you can treat yourself with a little more kindness? Be more open to messages you may be sending to yourself? What might your loneliness, sadness or frustration be trying to tell you?
When I finally started to listen to the message my feelings were trying to tell me, the message was that I deserved more, I wanted more and I was capable of so much more. The reason I didn’t want to hear that was because I wasn’t sure how to go about it. But guess what? It’s been much easier to figure that stuff out as I go than it was to keep stuffing it down and trying to avoid it.
For a moment, let’s go back to the part where we let ourselves feel whatever we’re feeling. Instead of reaching for food, we choose to let ourselves feel whatever it is we normally avoid. What happens if we survive feeling our feelings? (which we will). We get past the uncomfortable thing we don’t want to feel and end up on the other side.
If you actually let yourself feel the depth of what is bubbling up for you, you might just hear the message you need to hear. Maybe not all of it at first, but some of it. Maybe you’ll feel it deep enough that you are ready or inspired to do something about it. Even if you aren’t quite ready to do something about it, know that there is value even in just hearing yourself out and that the depth of your understanding and willingness to create change can increase the more often you practice these things. You’ll know you’ve made very real progress with feeling and listening when the urge to run from your feelings isn’t there anymore.
Don’t underestimate the power of feeling your feelings and allowing yourself to be heard. If you hear one message from this post today, make it this: stop silencing yourself with food.
Do you think there is a message you need to hear that you have been avoiding? What makes that message so difficult to hear? What do you think you need to do to feel more heard in your life?
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