Don’t think you’re an emotional eater?
Answer this one question: Why are you eating when you’re not hungry?
All of us do this. Actually, we are probably doing lots of things besides overeating to deal with emotions that we don’t want to feel. Let’s look closely at what’s behind it.
Why feelings matter
Feelings are SO IMPORTANT because they drive your actions — what you do and don’t do. Any action you take or avoid taking is because of how you feel when you do it or how you think you will feel because of doing it.
Think about something you want in your life very badly. Maybe it’s a relationship, or a new house, or certain job. You’ve been dreaming about it. Get it in your mind’s eye for a moment.
When you think about it, how do you feel? Imagine having it. What is it like? I guarantee you that whatever it is, you feel amazing when you bring it to life in your mind.
Life is 50/50
We have been taught in our culture that we should be happy all the time. We believe that if we are not happy that something is wrong and that we should fix it. We even teach our children this in dozens of small ways.
“Oh no! You’re upset. What’s wrong?” We offer them comfort, a treat, a shiny object. Of course we do. We believe our children shouldn’t suffer, right?
We also teach them that something outside of them is responsible for how they feel. And that something outside of them will make them feel better.
“Did so-and-so hurt your feelings?”
“I’m angry because you broke the rules.”
“It makes me happy when you get good grades.”
It’s human nature to avoid discomfort and seek pleasure, so we attempt to find solutions to negative emotion. And guess what? The world has all kinds of suggestions for how we can access instant pleasure. Here is a sample of the possibilities:
- Watch YouTube or Netflix
- Check your Facebook
- Go shopping and buy something
- Smoke a cigarette or use a vape
- Drink alcohol
- Eat something delicious
- Watch pornography
- Get our nails or hair done
None of this is a problem until it creates consequences in our lives. Overeating when you’re not hungry isn’t an issue until you are overweight and develop health-related problems.
The truth is, it’s not possible to be happy all the time. I would even challenge you that you want to be happy all the time. Do you want to be happy when your life is falling apart? When someone dies? When you’re in financial crisis?
Life is 50% positive and 50% negative emotion.
We need the negative emotions to comprehend happiness. The contrast makes it possible. We need to feel fear, disappointment, stress, grief, and all the other uncomfortable emotions sometimes. They serve us because they show us danger and what’s important to us, and they motivate us to change.
Many of us want to deny that we are feeling negative emotion half the time. We want it to be more like 80/20.
What I want to offer you is that if you’re only feeling negative emotion 20% of the time, you’re either not growing in your life or you’re distracting yourself by buffering.
We buffer to make our lives more tolerable. Buffering has a net negative effect, and actually increases our suffering in other ways.
We get momentary relief, but there’s a bigger price to pay:
- If we’re overeating (eating more food than our bodies need for nutrition), we gain weight and suffer.
- If we’re overspending, we create debt that threatens our future and financial stress that affects our relationships and mental well-being.
- If we’re overdrinking, we can have all kinds of problems: alcohol use disorder, impaired functioning in our work and home relationships, legal problems, and health consequences.
Feeling negative emotion without buffering
What I want to teach you if you are trying to stop overeating and reverse your Type 2 Diabetes is that it is possible to stop using food to deal with your negative emotions.
There is no need to escape the negative emotion. You can learn how to just feel your feelings without eating – whether it’s boredom, stress, loneliness, or some other feeling. Desire for food is also a feeling that you can learn to feel without rewarding it. This actually deconditions it and sometimes solves it.
What’s even more powerful is that once you really understand that your feelings are created by your thoughts, you can learn to feel better by simply changing how you think.
THIS IS THE BEST NEWS EVER because literally nothing else has to change to feel better! You have 100% control over how you choose to think about your life.
The skill is built by studying yourself first:
- If you’re not hungry, but you notice you want to eat something, ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now?”
- Then ask yourself, “How will food solve this problem?” And also, “What is the downside to eating this food that I don’t need right now?”
Next, you will begin to recognize patterns in your overeating. You might be eating to comfort yourself, to reward yourself, or to decompress from the stress of the day. You need to gain awareness around what triggers and thoughts are putting this behavior in motion.
Once you see it happening real-time, you can identify that eating is what you have taught your brain to do in these situations. You can begin to anticipate them.
If you have been using food to deal with negative emotion, you will need to learn to feel it without distraction. At first, this will be hard. I teach all kinds of ways to process feelings, which allows you to own them and then release them.
Once you gain this skill, you will discover that they pass with no harm done. You can even learn to neutralize them by finding the thoughts that are generating them and then change those. You will build confidence with yourself that you can feel a negative emotion, and it’s no big deal. There’s nothing to fix.
Do you have work to do here? It’s worth doing. Once you figure out how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, you can accomplish incredible things in your life. You start taking action that moves you closer to your goals and stop doing things you wish you didn’t do.