Emotional eating is about soothing your anxiety.
DOESN’T FEEL GOOD
You’ll hear people say that they have an emotional eating problem and that they eat to make themselves feel better. In fact they don’t actually mean they feel better, they mean they don’t feel as bad as they did before.
Nobody feels better after they’ve had a big dinner and then, feeling uncomfortable from that, plowed through a thousand calories of cookies while washing it down with a cherry sundae. That doesn’t feel good. It tastes good and is pleasurable for a brief period of time but it doesn’t make people feel better.
We’ve all been there and we’ve all done that and we know that none feels good after consuming that much. In fact it’s the opposite. We feel tired, bloated, in pain and even a little ill. And yet we do it over and over again anyway.
The only time we feel better after eating is when we’re very hungry and eat healthy food in proportion to what we need. After that we feel better. We feel satiated, settled and in a state where our energy level is pretty even, ready to take on the next tasks of the day.
So if overeating makes us feel worse then the only logical reason we would do it is because somehow we still get some benefit from it.
Overeating gives us a break from the constant, and never ending anxiety that we feel all day and all night.
In general we are tuned out of our emotional state and so we usually only have a mild awareness that we’re feeling stressed or tense and because of that stress, we have an eating problem.
But it’s important to name it and become more aware of how we feel and what were doing in response to it. The difficulty in that is that it’s very uncomfortable. We don’t want to get in touch with our anxiety and have spent most of our lives doing anything and everything we can to avoid it.
We tune out from it by keeping busy. This way we tell ourselves that we have all of these tasks to attend to that are very important and so there is no time to really look within and see what’s going on inside. We also tune out from our anxiety in many other ways like spending too much time on social media, TV, consuming substances (including food) shopping, activities etc.. Anything to keep away from the anxiety.
And it’s completely understandable too. Why would anyone choose to feel discomfort? Especially when they believe that nothing can be done about it. If you don’t know how to manage your anxiety (actually much of the time you’re not even aware that you don’t know) then the next best thing would seem to be to avoid it.
Unfortunately avoiding anxiety only increases it. It sucks but it’s true that the more you avoid it, the bigger it gets. The bigger it gets the more stressed out you feel and your compensatory behaviors become bigger and bigger problems – meaning your eating issue only gets worse.
It gets to the point where you feel despair at the situation and the pain makes you go looking for a solution. Maybe it’s therapy. Most commonly it’s going to be a new diet or way of eating.
Eating healthier is extremely helpful and part of the process, but solving the issue means addressing the cause – which is your unregulated anxiety – and the drug like relief you feel when you binge.
KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING
Don’t feel bad. This is something everybody does to some degree. They might not do it with food but you can bet that they “use” some other coping mechanism. This anxiety problem is universal and we are all going through it at the same time.
And to get better it’s important that we get in touch with what’s going on because if we can’t see the issue then we can’t solve it.
So it’s important to simply notice how you feel throughout the day. Every so often take a second or two to become aware of how your body is feeling. It doesn’t take much effort. Doing this daily takes your issue from the back of your mind, where you barely paid it any attention, and gradually brings it more and more to the forefront.
You can speed the process up tenfold by doing this when you overeat. Notice how you feel just before you’re going to eat. How strong is the pull? How desperate are you? Are you able to say no to the food if you wanted? If you do say no then how do you feel for the next several hours?
Also notice how you feel when you’re eating. Are you slowly savoring the food or are you eating mindlessly? Regardless of the answer, ask yourself what’s going on in those moments. See if your anxiety is reduced and after how much food. Note the before and after difference.
What we all go for is that post Thanksgiving dinner feeling. It makes us feel heavy and slow, like someone turned the power down on our anxiety.
Once we’ve done all of that awareness work for a few weeks, we then go to our journal and write down, “I feel anxious much of the time and feel out of control because of it. It feels so big and overwhelming and I don’t know what to do about it. I keep myself busy and distract from it as often as possible by doing X, Y, and Z. I also binge or overeat just to get a break from it.
My emotions are way more powerful than I ever imagined and have a much bigger influence over my behavior than I thought. Because of that I feel frustration and despair, like I’m never going to get better. I mean how do you control an elephant?”
When you write something like that down, in your own words, you begin to see the scope of the issue. It’s the only way to begin to get a handle on it. You need to admit the truth to the best of your ability and see reality as clearly as you can.
Emotional issues take a long time and nobody wants to wait years until they lose weight and begin to change. It’s true that the emotional component of emotional eating is slow but that doesn’t mean you can’t get your weight under control.
You can still be an emotional eater, continuing to eat to soothe your anxiety, and ALSO lose weight. See the main page of this website (the guide) for how to do just that. It’s completely free and only takes a few minutes to read.
That main page also has advice on how to start working on the emotional component of overeating and I would encourage you to read that too. On top of that, this article has a lot to offer on what else is really going on emotionally when we use food to replace love.
Emotional eating is a handful of an issue that’s for sure but one that can be managed.
The main thing you need to take away from what we’ve been talking about here is that you need to switch away from doing what you can to avoid the anxiety. You need to begin to become aware of it, feel it and create a relationship with it.
You’re going to have to get to know your emotional eating (really your anxiety) the way you would a family member who is close to you. Perhaps even more. Getting a handle on your emotions is the same as getting a handle on your life.
More to come on getting to know your anxiety and what that looks like.
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.
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