Successful weight loss is so much more than counting calories, drinking “craving-crusher shakes” and following the latest fad diet.
Been there, done that, right?
Contrary to mainstream thinking, when you’ve struggled with weight issues for a long time, releasing the weight isn’t only about food.
It’s about your feelings.
Emotional eating is probably your biggest obstacle to becoming slimmer. As counter-intuitive as this sounds your weight issues are not due to overeating.
Overeating is the symptom. The real reason for your weight struggles is that somewhere along the way—perhaps as far back as childhood—you experienced such pain in your life that you discovered the easiest way to cope with that pain was to eat something.
Honor yourself for doing the best you can to feel emotionally safe. It’s hard to feel deep pain you think will never stop. You learned that grabbing the nearest comfort food helps you feel better. And to some extent, it does help because that sugar high or food coma stop you from feeling anything at all. Or at least, they take the edge off.
The thing is, emotional eating is a temporary fix. It doesn’t help you feel better for the long term. The feelings you push away still lurk beneath the surface, ready to erupt when you feel stressed at work, angry with your partner or demoralized when the number on the scale hasn’t moved—or, worse, moved up.
To end emotional eating and release weight permanently, you need to stop pushing away your feelings with food and instead let yourself feel your feelings. I know it’s scary to do this. When you’re triggered and feel strong emotion, it seems like you’re swallowed up by sadness, ready to jump out of your skin with fear or that your body’s on fire with anger.
You want relief. Fast.
But learning to feel your feelings requires patience and mindfulness. Think of your feelings as little children calling for your attention. They need to be heard, soothed and comforted. Not pushed aside as if they—and you—don’t matter.
Your feelings do matter and are there to show you something. You never get to heal old wounds or experience the fullness of life if you mute every emotion. I love how Thich Naht Hahn, Vietnamese Buddhist monk, describes it:
“Hold your feelings in a tender way.”
Just as a crying baby needs to be soothed in her mother’s loving arms, your feelings need that tender and mindful approach, too.
Beginner’s Guide to Feeling Your Feelings
Now, mind you, this can be challenging at first, but, trust me, it’s a life-changing process. When a big emotion hits, start by identifying what you’re feeling within these four broad categories: Sad, mad, scared and glad. While overlapping, each feeling needs a different approach because of how it’s experienced in your body. Use this guide to discover what works best for you to “hold your feelings tenderly.”
When you feel Sad… Comfort Yourself.
(Sad includes lonely, disappointed, guilty, shame, rejected, etc.)
Allow the sadness to wash through you:
Write your feelings in a journal. Talk with a friend. Have a good cry. Drink a cup of herbal tea. Read an inspirational book. Pray. Wrap yourself in a blanket and rest. Take a walk. Be in nature. Work on a craft project. Listen to soothing music. Though it might be the last thing you want to do, watch a sad movie to help you release your feelings. Close your eyes and imagine the sadness as waves of energy flowing through and out of your body. Affirm and reassure yourself: “I feel sad and it’s okay.”
When you feel Mad… Calm Yourself
(Mad includes angry, frustrated, annoyed, resentful, furious, hateful, etc.)
Allow yourself to feel mad without acting on it in an unsafe way:
Tap acupressure points to interrupt the mind/brain connection and help calm your body. Do something physical to release tension, e.g., take a brisk walk, vacuum, dance in your living room to upbeat music. Breathe slowly to the count of 10 and repeat until you feel calmer. Work a puzzle or another detail-oriented activity. Once your body calms down, just let yourself feel mad without acting it out. You could then either write about the situation or talk or with a friend.
When You Feel Glad… Celebrate Yourself
(Glad includes happy, grateful, proud, joyful, relief, etc.)
Honor feeling glad without sabotaging yourself with food:
Plan celebration time with a friend that doesn’t involve food, such as going to a museum, seeing a play or taking a nature walk. Write down your feelings to reinforce them. Sit quietly by yourself or take an aromatherapy bath and relish in this glorious state. Buy yourself flowers. Buy flowers for a friend and share your happiness. Start a fun hobby you don’t often take the time to do. Pamper yourself with a manicure or massage.
When You Feel Scared… Compose Yourself
(Scared includes frightened, anxious, worried, confused, tense, etc.)
Assess your safety then ground yourself:
Unless your situation requires immediate attention, affirm and repeat, “I am safe. All is well”. Tap acupressure points to settle your body. Sit with both feet firmly on the floor with your back straight and hold the sides of the chair. Then breathe steadily until you feel centered. Do something physical to release tension from your body: Take a brisk walk, climb stairs, vacuum, wash floors. Clear clutter from a closet or drawer because when you organize your outer world you organize your inner world. Talk with a trusted friend to help put things in perspective.
When I was in therapy, one of the things I learned to do when I felt sad and hopeless was to simply lie down on my bed. I’d feel my back, arms and legs held firmly by the mattress. I’d then just let myself feel, visualizing the pain as waves of energy washing through my body—from my head to my toes—then moving down through the bed, the floor and into the earth below. Allowing myself to “just be” with my feelings in this way helped me heal.
In our culture, taking time to recognize and sit with our feelings is not exactly encouraged. We all distract ourselves constantly—with our phones, TV shows, and food. Trust me, there are great rewards that come when you learn to feel and be with your feelings, but it can be challenging work. So be patient.
That’s how you do it. That is how you stop overeating. That is how you change.
(Photo Credit: CC Chapman)