Overeating is something that every one of us has experienced at some time in our lives. Some of us may only have done it a handful of times, and realised we didn’t like the feeling. But for many of us, even though we know it can hurt our health and we don’t like ourselves for it, we continue to eat compulsively. I know the story only too well. For a long time, I was an emotional eater. Up until a few years ago, for almost as long as I can remember, I would use food as an emotional regulator. I would overeat, emotionally eat, binge eat – as a way to manage and repress my emotions. It was how I had taught myself, from childhood, to cope with the uncomfortable feelings. And it worked. Food gave me comfort. It grounded me and helped me to numb out from life for a short while. But after the binge, I was always left with a feeling of shame and of disappointment in myself. It wasn’t until I studied Dynamic Eating Psychology that I understood that our relationship with food is a direct reflection of our relationship with life. That in the binge – in any compulsive behaviour – is a hidden message crying out to be heard.
Emotional eating is the body crying out to feel, to be heard
As Neale Donald Walsch so elegantly wrote in Conversations with God ‘The feelings are the language of the soul’. It is through our feelings that we experience life, pain and love. As children, we were mis-sold the myth that everyone always lives happily ever after. We learnt to fear & suppress negative emotions, afraid that if we give them a voice that we would become them. Rather than acknowledging them as part of life, we push them back down into the basement of our being – away from sight – for now.
But the truth is our feelings are just an expression of who we are. Each & every one of us carries both dark and light, in our positive & negative emotions. We need both polarities to exist. Whilst I believe we are all innately good, without the dark emotions, we cannot truly know the light. Negative feelings are a necessary part of transformation; they are here to help us grow. But it’s the denial of these feelings – rather than the feelings themselves – that drives us to food (or alcohol, or drugs, or shopping). A short-lived strategy that is helpful at the time, but not without consequences.
Our relationship with food is a direct reflection of our relationship with intimacy
Intimacy: into myself I see. What I learnt when studying Eating Psychology was that most of us have a fear of intimacy. Not just with others – but with ourselves. By intimacy I mean, can we remain close and see ourselves through the discomfort & hardship? Can we face our own vulnerability and feel the uncomfortable feelings? Do we take notice of the little things – the softness, the gentleness, and the nuances of our own psyche? Our relationship with food is often so deep and intimate that it takes all of our emotions, so we don’t have space for intimacy with anyone else, let alone ourselves.
Hunger is a primal desire that is, for the most part, out of our conscious control
Because we live in a society so afraid of weight gain and because hunger is such a primal desire, we have become fearful of food. It is powerful because it is imperative to our survival and for millennia, it has helped to keep us alive (safe). When we diet, we try to control our hunger with willpower and force, but trying to control hunger is like trying not to sleep. If we severely restrict the amount we sleep, the body eventually forces us to have a binge sleep (because sleeping is imperative to our survival). In the same way, when we restrict our appetite for extended periods (rather than follow the body’s natural instincts) we are eventually driven to binge as the body tries to recalibrate and remain within the ‘safety’ zone. A brilliant survival mechanism developed through human evolution, but not so helpful in the modern world.
Here are four simple strategies to start healing emotional eating
- Start acknowledging the uncomfortable feelings. The next time you find yourself sitting with an uncomfortable feeling and you have the desire to ‘eat’ it away, find a quiet space and practice ‘urge surfing’. Take a few minutes to breathe slowly, and notice where in your body you feel discomfort. Describe the sensation – its colour, texture, and shape, anything you notice about it. As you remain completely objective, wait for it to pass. It will, and so too will the desire to eat
- Start nurturing yourself. When we check out with distractions like food or alcohol we are essentially abandoning ourselves. Engaging in daily self nourishment practices allows us to become more present and get in touch with what we truly need, rather than using food to self soothe
- Slow down with your eating. No matter what you’ve decided to eat, slow down and eat with all of your senses. Give your body the pleasure it desires from food or it will drive you to seek and acquire it elsewhere
- Get in touch with your deepest desires. Start each day by asking yourself the question: ‘What do I truly desire in life?’ Journal a little everyday for a week around what comes up for you. Getting in touch with your deepest desires, even if you can’t live them, shifts and moves stuck energy, reducing the intense desire to binge or overeat
What we really need to be asking ourselves is ‘How can we feel our compulsion in a healthy way? How can we find other ways to give ourselves what we need without harming ourselves?’ The answer may seem elusive, but if we take the time to explore more deeply our own triggers and behaviours, to uncover the real reasons we are eating compulsively, our unwanted behaviours start to fall away.
Each of us have our very own unique relationship with food, which is intimate & sometimes complicated.
If you’re ready to explore in more detail what this is for you, to understand more deeply your own drivers & triggers to unwanted behaviours and see clearly the possible avenues to change, then go ahead and book a free 30 minute Food Body Breakthrough session. There are 4-5 of these free slots available in my diary per month. To check availability & book your free session email [email protected]
For more information on how to start healing emotional eating, sign up for our free 3 part video series ‘3 easy steps to start overcoming emotional eating and burning more fat.