In my last blog post, I helped you understand what it meant to numb your feelings with food, but it occurred to me that I skipped a step.
What are emotions and why you should care.
Emotions (often referred to as feelings) are our reaction to specific events or occurrences. Unlike moods, our emotions are typically short-lived. Joy, love, anger, fear, and panic (to name a few) are all emotions.
Your emotions are composed of 3 parts:
- Your Thoughts – the ideas or images that pop into your head when you’re feeling something.
- Physical Sensations – physical changes in your body, like your face feeling hot when you’re embarrassed, your heart racing when you’re afraid, or butterflies in your stomach when you’re nervous or anxious.
- Your Behavior or Reactions – the action you take when you feel an emotion. Oftentimes, we aren’t aware of these behaviors because they are so habitual – things like: getting quiet and withdrawing from people when you’re upset, slamming doors when you’re angry, or eating when you’re sad.
Why do you need to know this?
Because in order to stop numbing your feelings with food, you have to know that you’re feeling something and be able to identify it.
This will help you find a way to make yourself feel better without falling back on habitual or destructive behaviors.
This is Emotional Awareness.
Most of us know when we’re feeling uncomfortable, but we can’t always identify the underlying emotion. Often, instead of verbalizing the emotion (sad, happy, angry, frustrated, etc), we’ll say things like: I feel fat.
Fat is not an emotional state. It’s an evaluation or judgement of your situation. If you’re “feeling fat,” it’s an opportunity to do the deeper work and explore the actual emotion underneath. The deeper work can be uncomfortable – it’s much easier to stuff your feelings with food and avoid them – but you can’t heal your relationship with food and your body unless you do it.
The next time you start to feel uncomfortable, take a moment to dig a little deeper.
Grab your journal and identify the three parts of your emotion.
For example: “I Feel Fat” – this is just a cover-up, so translate this into an emotion.
Ask yourself: How am I really feeling?
Sad, disappointed, ashamed, nervous, anxious, angry, frustrated, overwhelmed…identify the feeling. Think about what was happening before you started feeling this way, this may give you some insight into what you’re feeling.
Acknowledge Your Thoughts: I feel fat, I feel ugly, I’m worthless, no one cares about me…
Check in with your body and identify the Physical Sensation: tired/low energy, tense shoulders, increased body temperature or heart rate, clenched jaw, etc.
Now how do you want to react – eat, isolate yourself, cry, yell, pick a fight…
There’s no right or wrong here. Acknowledge what you’re feeling, without judgement. Taking the time to identify all of the parts of your emotion will help you choose the best way to cope.
Ideally, your coping mechanism will be something that helps soothe the physical sensation. If you’re experiencing physical tension, try stretching or progressive muscle relaxation. If your heart is racing, deep breathing may be helpful.
Cry if you need to cry. Put on a song that matches your emotion and shake, stomp or circle until you feel a release.
Is it easier (and quicker) to turn to food? Yes.
But you and I both know that food is not a long-term solution. Eventually food will stop working – you’ll have to eat more and more of it in order to feel better and eventually that will negatively affect your health and how you feel about your body.
You need more than one coping strategy when things get tough, and being able to identify your feelings is the first step to making that happen.
Other ways you can learn to identify and work through your underlying emotional issues are:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT):
CBT is one of my favorite forms of traditional talk therapy because you talk through your issues, but are also given practical tools to help you modify the behaviors that developed as a result – this includes patterns of thinking as well as physical behaviors and habits.
Dance/Movement Therapy (DMT):
Dance Therapy isn’t as well-known as Cognitive Behavior Therapy, but it’s one of my favorite alternative therapies (and one that I happen to specialize in).
Every experience you have leaves a physiological imprint in your body, especially traumatic experiences or situations of extreme stress that cause your body to flight, flee, or freeze in order to cope.
In Dance/Movement Therapy, you’ll process your difficult emotions through movement – literally moving and releasing them from your body.
Writing and Self-Reflection
Writing is an amazing way to process information and experiences. When you’re feeling frustrated, angry, sad, or happy, grab a journal and express those feelings on the page. If it feels good to you, tear or safely burn the pages when you’re done as a symbolic release.
The most successful route to healing is one that takes your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs into consideration. Choose a method that feels good to you, and understand that the same method may not work for every situation.
If you’re numbing your feelings with food and you’re ready to release the physical, mental, and emotional weight that’s keeping you from feeling your best? Join me for Nourish – a 12 week program that will help you stop eating your emotions and deal with them.