Two Tools To Help With Emotional Eating

19 March 2021 | Written by Xenia Ayiotis

At the best of times many of us struggle with emotional eating. In the last year, with the pandemic throwing us off course, eating challenges have increased.

Emotional eating is a way we cope with unpleasant emotions. It’s a way to distract ourselves from difficult feelings. It’s a normal human response, yet diet culture leads us to believe that when we eat emotionally, it’s because we lack willpower and control. That emotional eating is a sign of weakness.

One of the symptoms of dieting is a disconnection from ourselves, from our body sensations and from our emotions. When we follow food rules we are hyper-focused on what we can and can’t eat and not in tune with what is going on inside of us. Many people come to mindful eating and initially, are physically and emotionally, unaware. It’s not obvious to us that we are turning to food to cope. Often we don’t know why we are eating and there are uncomfortable feelings that have not yet been uncovered, we don’t recognise what is going on for us.

When I eventually stopped dieting and started working on healing my relationship with food, I had no idea what I was feeling. I was completely disconnected from my body and my emotions. I just remember feeling bad most of the time. I couldn’t name the emotion. It was a low-level anxiety.

As I started identifying emotions, I realised that most of the time I was eating because I had a sense of inadequacy and fear of things going wrong.

I honestly felt that something was wrong with me. To make things worse, there was a lot of judgement about all my negative emotions because somewhere I inherited the belief that I need to be happy all the time.

Emotional eating is a way to zone out and dissociate from our feelings. Understanding what we are feeling and listening to our emotions can heal our relationship with food and with ourselves but first we need to get in touch with our feelings. Understanding why we binge or overeat requires awareness. Recognising an emotion takes practice and awareness.

There is great healing power in awareness. I have a very simple tool you can use to help you connect with what you might be feeling.

Ask yourself, are you:

S – Stressed or Strained?

A – Anxious or Angry?

L – Lonely or Longing?

T – Tired or Tense?

Sometimes, simply recognising the feeling that is triggering you to eat, helps you overcome it. Other times you may need to find ways to deal with the emotion. There will be times when the only thing that you’ll want to do is eat. In times like those you can practice mindful emotional eating, this process is accepting your feelings and giving yourself permission to eat as a coping tool. I write more about the process here.

The nature of life is that we will experience unpleasant feelings. Avoiding them won’t solve the problem. If you choose to practice feeling your feelings, here is a step by step process:

Step 1: Aware

Awareness is the first step. It could be that you become aware of anxiety or that you are worrying or stressed. Or you notice that you are eating mindlessly.

Step 2: Acknowledge

When you acknowledge something is happening you could say to yourself “Fear is Here”, “Anxiety is here” or simply label to yourself “I am stress eating.”

Step 3: Accept

This is an active step of accepting the moment as it is. It may be useful to say to yourself “This is a difficult moment” or “I am having a hard time right now”. Very often we resist the pain by saying we shouldn’t feel a certain way. This resistance creates more pain.

Step 4: Allow

Allow yourself to feel what you are feeling. Notice where you are experiencing it in your body. Is there a tightness in your belly or throat or chest? Breathe into it as much as you can, when working with difficulty it’s important only to practice as much as you can and not push yourself.

Step 5: Attend with kindness

Once you have gone through the four steps, it is possible you may be feeling vulnerable. So it’s important to check in with yourself and see what it is you are needing or what might you need later? To offer yourself some tender words like you would to your best friend. Something like “this is hard but we’ll take it one step at a time.”

I hope these tools will help you gain awareness around the emotions you find challenging.

May you be well
May you be safe
May you be free from harm

Xen

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