With all the emphasis on positivity these days (and on this blog too) it’s easy to start feeling that there’s something wrong if you aren’t continually able to be upbeat, happy, and grateful. But that’s a misunderstanding of the science of positive psychology. Negativity is an essential part of life. Ability to sit with and experience all emotions – negative and positive – is essential to a healthy life, and to healthy eating as well.
This is because much of emotional eating is often about using food as a coping skill when emotions are uncomfortable. Food works in the short term to soothe, distract, or numb in the same way as drugs or alcohol. We may not even be aware when we are doing this. We just find ourselves in front of the fridge or rummaging through our desk for food. When this happens, your emotional eating has nothing to do with the food itself. And the answer won’t be found in food exploration, but in becoming more comfortable with the full range of emotion.
In reality there is no negative or positive emotion. All emotion is simply data letting us know what’s going on inside of ourselves. The so called negative emotions provide valuable data to assist us in decision making and self-care.
Anger for instance lets us know that there’s been a boundary violation that we need to attend to. Underneath the anger are usually other emotions such as sadness or fear that also have valuable messages. Sadness lets you know something you value is lost or in jeopardy. The fear heightens your awareness of the danger. Your best response is often formed from these so called secondary emotions. That is, from the place of sadness and fear about the relationship, rather than from the anger on top.
Emotional energy is flowing through you at all times, and it’s neither positive nor negative. When your conscious mind interprets that energy flow into a feeling it’s important to realize that your interpretation could be incomplete or in error. Emotions such as excitement can feel like anxiety in our body for instance. Both may even be present. That’s why we need to pause and fully explore the emotion and its messages. We can then use this information to get our needs met, and thus reduce the need to use food to soothe or distract.
The next time you feel an urge to eat that is more emotional than from physical hunger, pause for a moment and ask yourself what’s going on. The purpose isn’t to stop you from eating, but to clarify why you are having the craving. As pausing to reconnect with your emotional experience becomes more automatic, you will likely experience fewer of these urges.
Let me know how this works for you! To get on my schedule for an informal talk with no agenda other than understanding your struggles and helping you get unstuck click here. If you need other times, use the contact form linked below.
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This week I’m reading a very insightful book called Nourish – How to Heal Your Relationship with Food, Body, and Self by Heidi Schauster, MS, RDN in which the author gives many practical tips on working with your thoughts and emotions.
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