Think back to the last time you overate—not because you were hungry—but because your feelings got the best of you.
Maybe you impulsively grabbed something from your pantry, binged after work by dashing through the fast food drive-thru or got up in the middle of the night to raid the fridge. Got the image in your mind? Okay, now… ask yourself:
What feeling was I trying to avoid?
When I ask my clients this question, I typically hear, “I felt overwhelmed,” “I was stressed,” “I felt bad,” or “I’m not sure.” They know they felt something intense but can’t always pinpoint it. When we explore it further they sometimes can name it, but more often than not—at least in our beginning work together—they don’t know how they felt.
That’s because emotional eating—like any compulsive behavior or addiction—comes from the struggle to know and be with what you feel.
What you do know is you’re in distress and want to feel better—fast.
When you push your feelings away with food—or alcohol, cigarettes, shopping—you dismiss and deny parts of yourself.
They might be uncomfortable and it might feel easier to push them away, but think of your feelings as little children calling for your attention. You wouldn’t push away a crying child, would you?
Our lives work better when we feel whole. And feeling whole comes from embracing all our feelings in a loving way. And that starts with knowing what they are.
Feelings can be identified within four broad categories. When you feel triggered to eat and you know you’re not hungry, ask yourself: “Am I sad, mad, glad or scared?” Then review the following list of feelings associated with that category. From the list, notice which word or words best reflect how you feel. Download this Feelings List and tuck it in your purse or pocket to keep it handy.
Lonely, disappointed, glum, blue, unhappy, dissatisfied, dejected, guilty, ashamed, hurt, isolated, miserable, depressed, heartbroken, gloomy, despairing, grief, lonesome, melancholic, hopeless, helpless, rejected, distressed, abandoned, alone, powerless, empty.
Angry, frustrated, bitter, annoyed, resentful, irritated, exasperated, loathing, disgusted, hostile, hateful, aggravated, defensive, enraged, livid, infuriated, irate, outraged, antagonistic, mean, aggressive, furious.
Happy, thankful, elated, delighted, cheerful, loving, hopeful, relief, appreciative, satisfied, excited, peaceful, enthusiastic, proud, pleased, caring, grateful, carefree, joyful, confident, secure, nurturing, content, blissful, ecstatic.
Anxious, nervous, panicky, afraid, worried, frightened, terrified, fearful, apprehensive, uneasy, concerned, insecure, vulnerable, weak, unsettled, tense, confused, upset, shocked, overwhelmed, suspicious, pressured, unsure, trapped, cautious.
You may wonder how a category like “glad” relates to emotional eating. People sometimes overeat not only when they’re upset but also when they feel anything strongly. They feel moments of happiness—real and authentic—but those moments are fleeting because they lack a deep inner peace. Glad, sad, mad or scared, they reach for food just the same.
Once you discover what you’re feeling, say it out loud and tell yourself, “It’s okay.” For example:
“I feel lonely… and it’s okay.”
“I feel annoyed… and it’s okay.”
“I feel vulnerable… and it’s okay.”
So often we’re given suggestions of what to “do” with our feelings to feel better. While that’s important—I’ve offered that advice myself—sometimes we don’t need to “do” anything but give ourselves permission to feel.
Your feelings cannot hurt you. It’s what you do with them that either helps you or hurts you. And sometimes the best thing to do… is nothing.
Giving your feelings a name—and saying them out loud—is like a loving, attentive mother reflecting back to her crying child, “You look sad.” That validation helps the child feel safe. Someone understands.
That same sense of validation, safety and love is what you get when you name what you feel and tell yourself, “… and that’s okay.”
So the next time you feel that impulse to grab food, remember to stop, look at your list and name what you’re feeling. Then, say it out loud, reassuring yourself that—no matter what you’re feeling—it’s okay and you are, too.
The intensity of the feeling will lessen. Then, do your best to use whatever coping tools have worked in the past—tapping, writing down your feelings, breathing—until the urge to eat passes.
Identifying what you feel and learning to comfort yourself with your own words, empowers you. And the more powerful you feel, the easier it is to overcome emotional eating and release weight… forever.
Try this and let me know how it goes, okay?
Photo Credit: Gisela Giardino