When trying to “fix” emotional eating we often focus on food. If I’m overwhelmed with sugar cravings then I’ll cut out sugar, and so on. It’s a tempting approach. The problem for chronic dieters is that now we’ve created more restriction, and that has a way of backfiring. Stronger cravings will often soon be at the door.
Since it’s dieting and restriction that created the cravings in the first place, a different approach focuses on the emotional part of the emotional eating. That is, you pause and consider what you are feeling that is driving the urge to eat. Then you sit with that feeling until you understand its message.
This may be a big obvious emotion like anger or disappointment. Or it may be an under the surface feeling of inadequacy, stress, or anxiety.
It’s typically the emotions that we deem negative that drive emotional eating. These emotions are unpleasant themselves and we’ve absorbed through the culture that we shouldn’t feel them. Good girls don’t get angry, and nice girls smile and let it go. However, some positive emotions make us uncomfortable as well. For instance, you may have been taught that pride comes before a fall.
Those are messages we need to question.
My study of positive psychology has reinforced that wellbeing isn’t “happyology.” Emotional intelligence is a key component of wellbeing. And emotional intelligence requires that we be comfortable and fluent with the full range emotions. All emotions, including the ones we think of as negative, are critical to our wellbeing.
So the next time you feel an uncomfortable emotion, don’t try to push it away with food or change the mood. Instead sit with it for a bit and see what you can learn. Most emotions dissipate quickly once their message has been delivered.
Each of us has a habitual emotional coping style that helps us manage our emotional experience. For me, and I suspect many of you, that’s eating. Food helps us in the short term to distract and comfort. When you begin to non-judgmentally allow all of your emotions, you will automatically feel less need to use food to cope.
If you would like to talk about your struggles with food, eating, and your body, get on my calendar here (and if you need another time, fill out the contact form). I’ve got no agenda other than better understanding my readers.
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This week I’m reading Positive Psychology in a Nutshell by one of my professors, Ilona Boniwell, Ph.D. (as well as her much more detailed textbook). I recommend it as a quick introduction to the science of happiness.
For more resources, check out our Resources page.
We’ve got much more coming, so stay tuned!
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