Emotional eating is the habit of impulsive eating in response to negative or positive emotions. One step is to become aware of the thoughts deep-rooted in the emotion. Otherwise, we become victims of our thoughts, not of the food we eat.
Perhaps Shakespeare’s words, there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so, were pointing us to the ways we are prisoners of our own thoughts. Yes, bad things happen, such as the death of a loved one or an earthquake, but let’s not lose sight of our judgments or resentments about not getting the job or winning a competition. It is judgments and should thinking that mostly pull at our emotions.
Research shows that most individuals become stressed or anxious not because of the big events, but rather, because of the simple things. Perhaps one reason is that small things occur with more regularity. When we liberate ourselves from unnecessary judgments and should thoughts, we move beyond destructive patterns of daily life. This is especially true for the emotional eater.
Emotional eating is the habit of impulsive eating in response to negative or positive emotions. Yes, the general population tends to overly indulge during family and holiday celebrations. However, the majority of emotional eaters eat out of anxiety, stress, and frustration. Their feelings are repressed, rather than addressed.
A key factor, as related to Shakespeare’s words, is learning to recognize that it is okay to feel strong feelings. Research shows that most emotional eaters are people pleasers. They avoid confrontations or voice their concerns out of fear of being cast out and isolated from others. Therefore, emotional eaters stuff their feelings down by eating comforting foods, in hopes of not being isolated. It’s important to explore the ways people pleasing and emotional eating are interrelated.
Shame is another example of wanting to people-please. I recall my mom telling me not to think badly or judge others. She shamed me. In turn, I turned to comfort food and felt even worse, because I wasn’t a “good girl.” I had voiced a negative judgment about someone and had also eaten the last piece of chocolate cake. Overall, as children we are not taught to embrace or reflectively question the bad feelings or thoughts.
Today, emotional eaters, adults and children, are becoming more and more informed about how to sit with their feelings. If emotional eaters learn the skill of sitting with their thoughts and feelings, they can gain distance from the pattern of eating for comfort when overwhelming feelings, judgments, and emotions arise.
Sitting with Emotions
Sitting with emotional feelings begins with silence, observing the thoughts passing through like the ticker tape on Times Square. The task is to just let the words pass by. Or, as the Zen master says: The birds can fly over your head. Don’t let them build a nest in your hair. In other words, we see the thoughts without making judgments or getting hooked into self- justification or defending our position. At this point, thinking is neither good nor bad. It’s just present and we are watching words and feelings pass.
At this point, the emotional eater can realize that it’s not excess weight they want to lose, but rather identifying the root of painful emotions that causing them to emotionally overeat or eat when they are not hungry. They can cease eating to distract themselves from painful emotions.
Soul Satisfaction: Mind-Body-Soul
A mind-body-soul approach to address emotional eating begins with self-inquiry and removing yourself from yourself and others. Taking time to remove yourself from your thoughts is a step that breaks ruminations and dwelling on the tension or conflict. You are breaking the bonds that keep you stuck in the pattern of emotional eating. The need is to find a safe space from the entanglement of thought.
A spiritual practitioner once suggested that I “Do a Daniel.” Like Daniel in the lion’s den, I was to turn my back on conflict and should thinking. Looking out the window toward the light creates a new environment of thought. In everyday life you might choose to take a walk, or sit in a different room and look out the window. If these options are not available, then walk to the bathroom and be alone with your thoughts. The point is to seek a quiet safe space, in order to shift thought and gain some clarity.
Shifting thought begins with observing thoughts running through your head.
Observation provides an atmosphere for self-inquiry and self-awareness. Ask: Who or what is driving me to eat? Am I taking this situation personally and trying to fix it with food? Remind yourself that food is not a conflict fixer. Be willing to take a step forward and leave food out of the equation. Consider yourself a mind-body-being with the opportunity to know yourself as a completely embodied holistic self.
Yes, these steps take practice. Honor yourself by taking a different approach toward breaking the emotional eating pattern. The benefit is coming to see nothing as either good or bad, thinking makes it so. Hanging onto preconceived thoughts and should thinking keeps you locked in the ego- prison of faulty thinking. Freedom comes when thoughts are questioned, revised, released, and soul-satisfaction is realized.
Dare to make a shift! Ask: In what way, and at what level, am I willing to step up and address my emotional eating pattern, in a kind and gentle way that opens me up to experience life in all its excellence?