Without practice and deliberate effort most of us have trouble sitting with challenging emotions. We may try to avoid painful feelings with the temporary comfort of food. Unfortunately, this leads to a troubling cycle, we eat when we feel bad and then we feel bad because we eat. To complicate matters this cycle often leads to weight gain, which makes us feel even worse. There is a way out.
Sitting with challenging emotions
One way to get a handle on emotional eating is to cultivate the habit of mindfulness. Mindfulness is simply about learning to pay attention to the inner workings of our thoughts and emotions. With practice we can recognize feelings as they arise and choose to allow rather than avoid them. We can remind ourselves that everyone experiences feelings like sadness, anger and disappointment. Finally, we can offer compassion to ourselves and remember that these feelings are normal – they come and go. We don’t always have to do something about our feelings. Sometimes we can just breathe deeply and stay with the experience of the feeling, allowing it to be and then to pass like a cloud.
What to do instead
- Take a brisk walk. Emotions are like energy. Taking a walk is a good way to help the energy move through and out of your body.
- Talk to a friend – Naming a feeling with a supportive person can be a healthy and non-threatening way to experience a feeling without being overwhelmed by it.
- Reach for something healthy – Look for choices that offer nutrients instead of a potential sugar crash, which will likely only make you feel worse.
- Set goals – Vow to keep a food diary to help you set and honor daily limits of danger foods. Develop a “when and then” practice, for example: when I have waited 15 minutes then I can eat the comfort food or when I have gone for a walk then I can have the comfort food. Doing so can help you feel you have some level of control in the matter.
- Consider counseling. When the cycle of emotional eating and weight gain becomes too difficult to manage a therapist or counselor may be able to offer extra support.
Emotional eating can be especially difficult because habit establishes food as a solution that creates the problem of weight gain. To begin to break the cycle it can be helpful to learn to befriend the self and relate to the experience of painful feelings with patience and compassion. Challenging feelings are a normal, human experience. When we try to avoid them we may cause ourselves more suffering.