It’s Really a Fix
Behind your emotional eating is anxiety and behind that is the abyss.
Emotional eating (EE) is qualitatively different from eating for hunger or eating a certain way in order to follow a certain diet regime. With EE generally you have eaten and satisfied your hunger, then you start to feel a little restless. That builds and turns into cravings which become stronger, and more insistent that you eat something rich and sweet. At one point the discomfort becomes too much and we CAVE, gorge, and then feel guilt.
Pleasure and Relief
When we eat comfort food we feel pleasure and relief, as if injecting ourselves with a strong fix. Eating is such a powerful and easy way to change our feeling state, that it’s no wonder it’s so popular.
There’s more though. The aroma of something baking in the oven brings hope that relief is near and excitement and anticipation of the pleasure to come. Then the eating of it delivers the promised pleasure and relief. Afterwards, the full belly makes you feel drowsy and helps you to fall asleep more easily. What’s not to understand?
Although not technically an addiction, EE is addiction-like in that our bodies have been accustomed to regulating anxiety through food. Most addictions serve to reduce anxiety so the similarities of EE to an addiction are overt.
The behavior shouldn’t be judged though as many of our, and everybody else’s behaviors are based upon the expectation that they will calm us down. The anxiety we all feel is due to our feelings of disconnect, loneliness and vulnerability or powerlessness. One substantial and dominant message we’ve absorbed unconsciously since we were young is that we are small and the world is HUGE. That means we could be eliminated as easily as one could squash an ant on the road. We know this intuitively and understand early on that we have to adapt and conform to some degree to what the world wants, regardless of our individuality. Along with being wonderful and rich, the world is also dangerous and harsh.
Our feelings of disconnect lead to getting in touch with our vulnerability, which is difficult to tolerate. Young babies especially feel vulnerable and cry often, only to feel soothed by being close to a parent and held for long periods of time. As we get older, we become more independent and move further away from mother’s protective arms and eventually away from her completely. Soothing ourselves is now our responsibility, and if one hasn’t experienced and been taught emotional regulation from their parents, which is most everyone to some degree, then they cope in whatever manner they can, like eating.
Needing More …
Like any addiction, the stimulant becomes less and less effective over time and so either we try to take in more, or we adopt other strategies to add to our repertoire.
With eating it can be difficult to increase the amount of food we take in after a certain point. The discomfort of being full and the diminished returns of increasing food intake make the idea of eating more less alluring. So we adapt by combining our coping behavior (EE) with another, like watching TV. Those tend to go very well together as they don’t interfere with each other, and, are able to be absorbed simultaneously. The TV industry knows their audience too. They know that in order to keep people tuned in that more and more sensationalism is needed to distract us as the old stuff doesn’t work as well anymore. So we get shocking news with every story being a catastrophe and reality tv where people sell their souls and dignity for ever higher shock value.
We can’t sit with our anxiety, it’s too difficult. Again that’s not a judgement but an assessment of how we are. So then, when not in eating or watching mode we can stay distracted with the internet and phones, shopping, etc…
“The cure for the pain is in the pain.” ― Rumi
By now that quote is pretty famous and I think everyone understands it but it’s just so hard to follow through on. That message from Rumi (and psychologists and new age mindfulness gurus and Buddhists) tells us basically to stay with the pain instead of distracting from it.
Psychologist Dr, Joseph Burgo says to try to tolerate the discomfort when we feel shame or anxiety or guilt. To stay with it and learn to give it some space in our psyche’s.
The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says this about our connection to our inner child, “The wounded child asks for care and love, but we do the opposite. We run away because we’re afraid of suffering. … You have to talk to your child several times a day. Only then can healing take place.”
So the jury has spoken, from all the different types of healers about what it is that needs to be done:
Stay with the pain and anxiety.
Like most processes this isn’t done cold turkey in an all or nothing fashion. It’s done a bit at a time as emotional work is a big project. Start with a few minutes a day and see what you can learn. The minute you see something and discover something new about yourself, or when you reinforce new ideas more strongly, you are growing.
And that’s the key, to keep this process going until one day you find that the death grip that your emotionally charged, past trauma has on you is now less. When that happens it feels encouraging, knowing you are on the right path and that you can build on it. It’s hard at first though. My recommendation is to start by reading the emotional growth articles found on this blog and also the books on the recommended reading list. Combined they will get you off to a good start in the right direction, saving you time and needless continued suffering.
The solution to your anxiety and loneliness is ironically by being alone with your thoughts and your self. It gives us depth and we feel a sense of our lives being “right” when we undertake the task.
THE EATING LOVE GUIDE (FREE)
The Eating Love Guide has helped many people regain control of their eating patterns, resulting not only in weight loss but also better health and improved self-esteem. To read it online, click here.