Facing My Emotions (Or How to Stop Emotional Eating)

It’s no secret at this point that I have issues with food and that I am plagued by body dysmorphia. The feedback from my previous musing on this topic was amazing. People I hadn’t spoken to in years reached out to tell me how much my words helped them, how they had been struggling with the same issues and how good it felt to hear someone else’s experience.

And there is healing power in the words of others. In knowing that we are not alone. Emotional struggles are deeply personal and it can be easily feel like you have to fight alone. For the most part, you do. It is YOUR fight and no one can fight it for you, but you can have allies.

And as an ally for individuals struggling with eating disorders and body issues, I want to own up to something. In the conclusions of my two previous posts on this issue, I wrote about my healing process. I was trying to put on a brave face but I painted a false picture.

But the truth is, I’m not there yet. Despite previously having written that I would be beautiful at any size, I’m now a size 10 and I hate everything about it. I am struggling to look at my reflection in the mirror. I’m ashamed to meet up with friends I haven’t seen in a long time.

Despite previously having written that thin is not my goal, thin is still my goal.

But I’m fighting against both of these things with every fibre of my being. Right now I want to talk about something that I am learning to do as part of this process.

Facing. My. Emotions.

Since a very young age people have been telling me how important it is to face my feelings. But until recently, I didn’t understand what that meant.

I thought I knew my feelings but I didn’t see the connection between what I was feeling, and my relationship with food. And I really didn’t know how to bridge that gap. So there it is, I’m someone who eats my feelings.

Eating to cover up feelings is different from hunger. It happens at night and/or in secret. I never talk to anyone about it. If someone were to see me I would hastily put the food away. I justify the eating as it is happening, but the real feelings come immediately afterwards.

When I finally put the food away and go to bed the feelings come rushing in. Guilt. Shame. Anger. Even hatred. I feel guilty that I know I did something that was wrong. I feel ashamed that I couldn’t control myself. I’m angry at being so weak. And hate, I don’t think I need to describe that.

So how to begin to face these feelings?

Be Honest.

I truly think this is the hardest part. To be honest with myself about why I am reaching for the food. Am I hungry, or is it after dinner and I’m full but still I’m reaching for the ice cream? And then, make the tough choice. Choose not to eat the food, and choose to pay attention to the feelings that come bubbling up. Or make the even harder choice: choose to stop mid-binge. Choose to face the horrible feelings bubbling under the surface.

Journal.

I’m an avid journaler. I’ve been writing about my experiences since I was 10 years old. I know from experience that journaling helps you understand your feelings. It may not be immediate but write in your journal for a few months and you can look back over what you wrote and patterns will emerge. You can see a truth you were denying to yourself at the time.

I promise to myself to put down the food and pick up the pen. It will be harder than squatting my bodyweight but I will do it. I may not unearth the source of these feelings at first, I may not unearth their source at all. But I will try.

Talk about it.

At the beginning of this post I talked about the power of having allies in your fight. The whole reason I even have the self-awareness to write this post comes from a conversation I had with my mom last weekend. I mentioned that I hadn’t been sleeping well and when she asked why, I found all of these unexpected thoughts spilling from my mouth. About how I was secretly binge eating after dinner. About how, despite my efforts to count calories the last six weeks, I’ve gained 6 pounds. And I started talking about the shame, and the guilt. Feelings I hadn’t even realized were there. If I hadn’t had this conversation, who knows how long it would have taken me to find the courage to confront these feelings?

Talking is powerful because in order to be able to talk about your feelings with someone else, you have to admit them to yourself. Take the terrifying step and open up about what is happening to you. I promise it helps.

Meditate.

I’m a huge advocate for meditation. It brings so many benefits into every aspect of your life. When it comes to feelings, meditation can help you to better understand them, and to grow your capacity to deal with them.

Image yourself as a glass and your feelings are the water. Sometimes when struggling with things like depression, eating disorders, whatever it may be, it can feel like the water is overflowing the glass. There is no way you can contain it so how can you begin to understand it?

Meditation over time allows you to increase the size of your glass. Now you can hold more water. Keep it still, analyze it, and understand it. Meditation gives you the power to calm down your mind even in the middle of powerful, nearly overwhelming emotions.

Just as with journaling, this isn’t going to be a quick fix. I’ve been meditating for years now and I still struggle. But I know with 100% certainty that my practice is part of the reason I’m strong enough today to confront my feelings.

This process is painful. My mom once told me that the road ahead may lead into a dark, terrifying forest but you have to go through the forest to get to the light on the other side.

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