The Link Between Fear of Feelings and Food

The Link Between Fear of Feelings and Food

Filed Under: Emotional Eating

7 June 2024 | Written by Xenia Ayiotis

“We eat the way we eat because we are afraid to feel what we feel.” 

– Geneen Roth –

This quote by Geneen Roth says it all.

Eating to avoid feelings is about avoiding feeling the emotional discomfort of life’s challenges. It could be dealing with anxiety, boredom, depression, loneliness or all of these emotions. The urge to eat emotionally is mostly because we don’t want to feel the way we feel.

Emotional eating is not really a problem with food or eating. It is a feeling problem. We eat to soothe ourselves. Our core need is not to eat, but to feel better. When our needs are not being met, food becomes the solution. Eating makes us feel good (in the short term) and that distracts us from feeling difficult emotions. The added complication to emotional eating is if you are dieting, restricting food or have food rules, these forbidden foods take on more meaning. Denying these foods causes feelings of deprivation and in stressful moments they become more difficult to resist, often resulting in binge eating.

When we reach out for food to deal with emotions, what we are actually reaching out for is soothing words, a reassuring hug, maternal nurturing or ease and sweetness in our lives. Sadly, the solution to use food as a substitute for comfort, is short-lived.

Yes, it brings momentary relief but it is most likely followed by another layer of shame and blame. As much we would like to, we cannot escape unpleasant emotions in our lives. We are going to experience unpleasant emotions.

Many of us turn to things like eating, shopping, drinking or working to numb the pain. We can distract and dull but it only delays the inevitable. Avoiding feelings doesn’t make them go away – it helps us not to feel emotions. You can avoid them, which will cause them to fester. You could overeat and overdrink adding physical pain to the emotional pain, in an attempt to resist feeling the feelings. By resisting and reacting the feelings will remain and morph into other emotions, layering emotion on emotion.

Most of us haven’t been taught how to be with emotions. Growing up, I was never allowed to show my emotions and my clients share very much the same stories of having to suppress feelings. I am not sure about you, but at school and at home I was told “don’t be sad, others have it much worse” or I was told “why are you angry, you have so much to be grateful for!”

Choosing to feel our pain is often met with reluctance because it feels foreign and uncomfortable. When we stop resisting and choose to feel our emotions, we eventually see that the experience is unpleasant but for the most part, tolerable.

When comfort and nurturing are not available to us, how do we process our emotions? When processing emotional pain, it helps to notice it in your body. You can reassure yourself by saying “this is what it feels like to experience emotions in my body”.

In order to release the emotion, we first need to acknowledge that we are holding it. We start with awareness of our feelings followed by acknowledging and allowing our feelings and attending to them with kindness. Processing emotions is painful. When we are able to do it, we come through to the other side (often with tears), feeling cleansed and empowered that we can tolerate our emotions. The ability to stay present with our feelings and urges to eat is a skill, and requires practice, patience and lots of kindness.

Pema Chodron recommends that when feeling our feelings:

“We stay present with strong emotion only very briefly at first. The instruction is: short moments again and again. Rather than trying to endure prolonged exposure to intense feeling, we touch in for only two or three seconds, then pause and breathe gently before touching in again. Or we might simply stay with the troubling feeling for five or six minutes and then go on with our day, more in touch with our emotions and, therefore, less likely to be dragged around by them.”

All emotions have a cause and a message if we are willing to be open to feel our feelings.

If you struggle with emotional eating, join me and a group of women from around the world, in my next workshop where I will be sharing more about how to handle emotional eating.

Wishing you well,

Join the waitlist for the next workshop and be the first to know. It is happening soon!

✨ Ready to get coaching around changing your relationship with food? Book a free 30-minute mini session and let’s explore what challenges you’re facing and see how the coaching and courses I offer can support you.

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Karen L, Denver, USA

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Karen J, Colorado, USA

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Certified by The Life Coach School Certified and Trained by The Original Intuitive Eating Pro Professional Member of The Center for Mindful Eating