Usually, by the time people come to me asking for help to stop emotional eating, they have some awareness that using food to cope has become a habit.
Being food-focused has become a coping strategy they use whenever they want to avoid something else; an uncomfortable thought or feeling, a difficult situation, even a task they’d rather put off doing.
Food thoughts work (don’t I know it)! Food thoughts (and then eating) can effectively distract us from anything uncomfortable; from anything we’d rather not feel or tolerate…at least for a brief time.
Recently, I was coaching a client who was in the throws of a difficult divorce; child custody and financial arrangements still to be worked out (I’m sharing this with her permission). And, despite the fact that her gut told her a job she’d been offered was not a good fit (she feared she did not have the management skills or experience needed and she knew the company was in chaos), she accepted the position anyway because the salary was amazing. About six weeks into a 90 day probationary period, she knew she had made a big mistake and she resigned.
In a coaching session with me, she shared that she couldn’t stop thinking about how horrible that experience had been; the dysfunction at that company, how angry she was at the boss she felt set her up to fail. Over and over again, in her head, she was replaying her experinece on the job…along with thoughts about old and current conflicts with her soon to be ex-husband…
Soon, to shut down all of those thoughts and feelings; the intensity and the ‘noise’, she was binge eating again.
Then, she had an “aha” moment. She got it! Here’s what she wrote in prep for our next session.
“Something you said during our last session very much resonated with me – when I’m ruminating about something, I need to decide whether there is an action that needs to be taken (and then plan what that action is) or if I’m just dwelling and there’s nothing further to be done (and I need to let it go).
Regarding my former job, it’s unproductive ruminating. So now I’ve been redirecting myself to let it go, and trying to focus on the life that I want to create, instead. With my soon to be ex-husband, some of it has been unproductive dwelling, and some of it is an action item (I discussed the action items with my attorney yesterday).
When I’m thinking about past events, it’s been really helpful for me to ask myself, ‘is there an action item here?’, then redirecting my energy and focus.”
This is great example of what I mean when I speak about developing “emotional regulation skills”, even in light of uncertain times. Being ‘good’ at managing emotions does not mean you won’t have strong emotions. That’s a myth!
I know life is full of uncertainty and strong emotions. “Emotional Regulation” means that when strong feelings hit, instead of ignorning or stuffing them, you observe and experience those emotions…without judging them…or trying to inhibit them…without making them bigger by seeing them through the lens of past experiences…and without borrowing trouble from what might or might not happen in the future.
If you can experience feelings, in the moment, you can come to trust that feelings are full of great information…and are survive-able. Instead of blocking feelings with food thoughts, you can use thoughts and feelings (especially the uncomfortable ones) to inform you. Then, you can address them head on; coming to fully trust that you can and will choose to do with them whatever you need to do (including just honoring them as feelings that will pass…).
With practice, I’ve come to tolerate feeling vulnerable; feeling my feelings, mindfully deciding what those feelings are telling me, and then I make a plan for what I want to do next.
I find it useful to think of it this way. Feelings are just information I can use to create the life I say I want. It took me some time, and skill building, and practice to get there, but today I trust that I can handle any feelings that come my way…
What’s the alternative… contining old patterns; still using food to cope? The habit of stuffing feelings down with food just delayed the work I needed to do to live a more peaceful, productive, happy life…
How about you? Are you still using food to cope? Please share a comment–tell us about your experience. What do you think makes tolerating feelings rather than using food so hard? What gets in your way of change?
(BIG topic to cover in a blog post! If you’d like to learn more about emotional regulation skills, be sure to join me for my free phone seminar about overcoming emotional and binge eating.)
I’m Ellen Shuman, a Coach who has been helping people overcome emotional eating, compulsive eating, binge eating disorder, and food addiction for more than 20 years. I started A Weigh Out & Acoria Binge Eating Disorder Treatment (1993-present). I’m also Past President of the Binge Eating Disorder Association (2011/2012). I’ve been there, done that. If I can be of assistance to you, please get in touch, firstname.lastname@example.org, 513-321-4242.