Overcome emotional eating? What does that really look like…in one’s every day life? Here’s a great example that I’m pleased to share.
By way of backround…as an Emotional Eating Recovery Coach, I encourage all of my clients to create their own “Willingness List” each week, right after each Coaching Session. What you are about to read (shared with the client’s permission), is what she posted in our Members’ Forum as her week progressed and she faced some pretty big emotional challenges.
In her words…
These were the first 2 Willingness Commitments I have on my list for this week. If my emotional buttons get pushed and I begin to have food thoughts/food noise:
1. I’m willing to dig deeper beneath the ‘food noise’ and name the emotion underneath
2. I’m willing to sit with that emotion and feel it (deeply) and breathe.
So the next day, after committing those things to paper, I got a work email that pushed my emotional buttons. I managed to navigate through that issue without a binge and thought ,”OK, tick that off. I can tell Ellen I’ve done those items on my Willingness List.”
Then, the day after that my partner and I had an upsetting disagreement. Not a niggly one, but one of those once-in-a-blue-moon ones where all your buttons get pushed and you just can’t seem to find common ground. Enter the food noise! It didn’t start off quietly. It was a loud buzz that went something like, “Don’t forget me, CHOCOLATE, I’m your old friend. I can numb you. I’m so easy to get. YOU KNOW YOU WANT MEEEEEE!”
I paced around and then remembered that I was meant to “dig deeper and identify the emotion”. As I tried to do that it felt like a number of things; anger, upset, anxiety, etc. But when I drilled down, mostly it felt like ‘feeling let down’. The truth was that in my mind I wanted him to respond a certain way to a situation and he had responded a different way. I felt so disappointed.
So now what?
I remembered my next commitment and it was to ‘feel it deeply’ and breathe. Arggghhh! Why did I commit to that? I REALLY didn’t feel like just sitting and breathing with it so I decided the most I was prepared to do was to go for walk. I live near a beautiful lake and it usually takes about 40 mins to walk around. That felt like the very max I had to give to being ‘willing’, and just FYI to the universe, from there my ‘willingness’ was going to be all used up.
About 15 minutes into the walk I saw a beautiful feather lying on the path. I picked it up and put it in my pocket. Over the last few months I’ve started a habit of collecting a feather every time I walk around the lake. I keep them in a glass jar in my home office as as a symbol of my ‘self care’. It’s a bit of a random thing to do but somehow when I look at the jar it reminds me that all these little acts of ‘self care’ do make a difference, because bit by bit, the jar is getting fuller.
Anyway, a little girl scooted up beside me on her scooter and, as if she knew me, said “Hello!”
I said hello and smiled at her. She beamed at me and said, ” I saw you pick up that feather before. It was beautiful.”
A little taken aback I agreed that yes, it was a very nice feather. “Guess what?”, she said excitedly. “I collected some for you as well”…and with that she handed over two perfect feathers and then scootered off again.
I was so surprised and touched. It seemed like such a random, sweet thing to do. And in the context of me collecting feathers as symbols of self care it was like she was giving me a double dose just when I needed it!
The more I walked the more I had time to distill the disagreement with my partner. It gave me a chance to reflect how I might have contributed to the conflict rather than blaming it all on him. It helped me to remember that he is not a mind reader (as much as I want him to be!) and that I needed to use my voice to let him know how I felt and why I felt let down.
At the end of the walk I was hungry. I sat in the car deciding what I felt like eating. Bizarrely enough, I didn’t really feel like chocolate anymore. I actually really felt like (hold the phone)… grapes! Madness, I know. I drove to the supermarket, got the grapes and drove home. The first thing I said when I walked in our front door was, “Would you like a grape?”. (Turns out that’s a great way to disarm someone- ask a totally random question when they are bracing themselves to expect more conflict.)
We had both had time to think and cool off and by that point we were in a much better place to talk it through without the heat of emotion. It wasn’t easy, but we did it.
Something that occurs to me as I write this is that if I hadn’t driven to the lake but instead headed directly to the supermarket to get chocolate, I would have walked in the door feeling guilty and ashamed and angry (at myself). I know from plenty of experience that feeling this way does not put me in an ‘open’ sort of mood. If anything, it’s much more likely that I would have projected my self-disgust onto him and likely continued our previous disagreement. Not pretty.
So another close shave. Eekkkk, somehow I get the feeling that there are going to be a few more of these challenging ones to test my ‘willingness’ still…
She was right. Overcome emotional eating? There were more challenges to come! There will always be emotional challenges, as long as we’re alive and kicking! True recovery is not about avoiding strong emotions and difficult situations. Recovery is all about handling whatever comes our way; without distortions, judgment, fear, and stuffing feelings with food. True recovery is about facing what comes our way, with competence and confidence that we can handle any/all emotions that surface, stay present; in the moment, and work through emotional intensity with honesty and grace. This becomes possible with the development of new emotional regulation skills ….and a lot of practice! I promise. You, too, can overcome emotional eating! It just takes a little willingness…and maybe a feather or two…
Ellen Shuman has been a Coach for 18 years. She specializes in helping people overcome emotional eating, compulsive eating, binge eating disorder, and food addiction. She is the founder of A Weigh Out & Acoria Binge Eating Disorder Treatment (1993-present), Past President of the Binge Eating Disorder Association (2011/2012), and Co-Founder of the Academy for Eating Disorders Special Interest Group on “Health at Every Size”, email@example.com, 513-321-4242.