Learning to listen to our true emotions and accepting that sometimes, they call for us to nourish in a different manner.
It was a relatively quiet evening at home and I had just settled down to eat some dinner when I suddenly found myself in the grip of some previously-hidden emotion that was demanding I immediately gorge my dinner and go looking for at least half a pint of vanilla ice-cream.
It's not as though I have never eaten out of sheer stress, boredom or even sadness before; but the difference this time was that I was fully conscious of the fact that there was an underlying emotion driving the seeming need to 'stuff my face' so I didn't have to deal with what was really going on inside my heart of hearts. And, honestly, this one simple shift in perspective and awareness made all the difference for me.
From a nutrition consultant point of view, this particular subject has come up consistently throughout my training and in interactions with my clients. The act of eating in an emotional manner or when coming from an emotion-filled place has always been presented to us as 100% taboo and dangerous and I know exactly why.
See, when we allow external substances (be they food, alcohol, drugs, people or even the act of remaining permanently busy) in our lives to become a numbing agent; we are walking into the depths of the most disheartening and dangerous darkness. And the only way out of the darkness is to move through the deepest truths of self in the most consciously aware manner possible. Something we are internally terrified of.
As a whole, us humans have, from the very moment we are brought into this world, been in search for comfort. And the very first moments of soothing comfort and overwhelming safety and joy in our lives reside in the heart of the most sacred of loves; the love of the mother as she takes us into her arms and nourishes our bodies with her life-affirming milk.
This utterly vulnerable and immeasurably necessary act transforms us, welcomes us into this physical realm and informs our minds, bodies and souls that some comforts can be reached through the intake of physical nourishment.
So, is it any wonder that in times of heightened emotional waves, we are in search for that same type of soothing? Can we not lovingly observe and acknowledge that sometimes, the need for chocolate is coming from a place of broken-hardheartedness and that it is a valid sensation or drive?
I believe we can. But most importantly, I believe that we do not have to be taken over by our emotions in such a way that we self-numb or self-soothe in a way that will not serve our spirits, minds and hearts in a truly health-full manner.
As with most things, this process is deeply rooted in the act of self-awareness and non-attachment. Because in order to truly heal from our emotional wounds, we have to be able to to be present, vulnerable, loving (to ourselves and others) and removed from judgement in order to truly heal and find peace along our path.
So, it isn't so much a matter of berating ourselves every single time we polish off a pint of Häagen-Dazs as it is being observant of the fact that:
A) Something internal is going on and has not yet been addressed or is too recent.
B) There is a disconnect between what we are feeling and how we are choosing to handle the situation. (And in some cases, we may even be actively trying to run away form the situation all-together or remain in denial about it).
C) Our need to disengage from, run away from, invalidate or even deny our emotional state is putting us at greater dis-ease and it is manifesting in the unthinking or overwhelmed consumption or lack thereof of food with out any true attention to hunger, satiety or satisfaction cues with in our bodies.
However, these items cannot be observed so long as we are denying ourselves the opportunity to really be present with what and how we are feeling each present moment. Therefore, the first step is always to go internal and become a gentle observer.
We want to get to a place where we can catch these moments of disconnect and actively make decisions around them with out trying to label ourselves as good or evil either way, but to simply remain conscious and willing to make a shift if and wherever it may be necessary.
In other words, as you slowly become more connected to self and start really understanding your body's hunger, satiety and satisfaction cues, you will more readily be able to spot that you may be eating either from a compulsory space, or in order to alleviate some sort of internal turmoil you may be undergoing at present.
I will give you a small example of what this dynamic would look like and how it would be more soothing and helpful than our default, "Oh my goodness, I am such a pig! why did I just eat all that when I wasn't even hungry! now I have to work out all day tomorrow to make up for this ridiculously mindless emotional over-eating. Yuck!"
Say you have been undergoing a lot of strain at work because you are in the process of training and growing a new aspect of your business. You have spent many extra hours at the office and you have been forgetting to bring in snacks or meals that you can have ready to go throughout the day.
As a consequence of this momentary life upheaval, you have been getting up every couple of minutes to retrieved something from the vending machine. Everything form chips to chocolate to protein bars and even nuts has been plundered by you all in a matter of hours. Yet all you continue to feel hungry, stressed, depressed, preoccupied, overwhelmed and completely disconnected from your body. That is, of course, until you look around at your desk and see the myriad of vending machine food wrappers strewn about like little party decorations.
It is at this precise moment that you realize your stomach is doing the "I am not happy with you dance" in more than one sense of the word AND it is also at this point that the realization of the mindless consumption hits you like a ton of bricks. Your first instinct, based off of years of dieting on and off, is to freak out and get angry with yourself for allowing yourself to "fall off the wagon" or do something "so unhealthy" or simply "eating like a pig".
What follows will be added stress and emotional distress, along with a guilty conscience and a sense of having done something 'shameful' or 'dirty'. And these thoughts and emotions will either get you stuck on a loop of bingeing, feeling terrible and then bingeing all over again OR they will make you think that deprivation and harsh punishments for your 'transgressions' are the only way out of this place.
If, HOWEVER, you were able to take a breathe, pause for a moment and take a closer look at what is really going on internally, things may be much more different.
In this latter case, you looked at the plethora of wrappers strewn across your desk and office and realized that something deeper is going on and you need to pause for a moment, take a few centering breaths, maybe even get up and walk for a bit and really ask yourself what is going on internally that has led you to stop listening to your body and has left you in a pace of disconnect so intense you can barely even remember eating 5 whole bags of Fritos.
So you do just that, you get up, you walk around for a little while and start paying attention not just to your breathing, but to how your whole body and mind are feeling this day, at this moment. At first, the only thoughts you may encounter could be those of how much stuff you have to take care of and how much stress is on your shoulders, followed closely behind by the shock and discontent of having eaten so much that you are now in physical distress.
Yet little by little, you start to realize that the pain along your neck and shoulders is coming from a deep seeded sense of strain, stress and overwhelm at the tremendous task you are undertaking. This realization leads you to also realize that you have been pushing yourself so much that you haven't rested enough, eaten enough, laughed enough or simply paused long enough to savor life in any way, let alone through your food choices.
From this moment on, you have a choice. You can choose to continue running away from, ignoring or further inflaming these negative emotions and/or thought patterns,OR, you can choose to slowly acknowledge the fact that you feel uncomfortable (this is focusing on stress for the sake of the example but this applies to sadness, anger, etc), you have taken to simply ignoring your most basic needs and have utilized food as a substitute for true awareness and healing. You have been self-soothing in a way that has ultimately depleted you and left you feeling far worse than you had to begin with, and it has only really managed to put a flimsy band-aid over the real issue you now must deal within earnest.
Once this realization sinks in, you must take on the task of the gentle observer and acknowledge that you are neither a better or worst person for having responded in an emotional way to an emotional upheaval, but that you have allowed yourself to aggravate an internal situation by seeking comfort in an external manner.
It is also important for you to acknowledge that self-soothing is innately ingrained in you and to not use it as, either an excuse to make it a habit to continuously perpetuate the same behavior, OR as a self-flagellation tool with which to make yourself feel even worst about the whole thing to begin with.
Once this recognition is in place, you can choose to do the hard work of really healing all of your wounds (a vulnerable awareness that may even require that you ask for help in a myriad of ways) or you can choose to keep running away knowing that this action will very likely land you in the exact same position you are in now.
You can also choose to eat foods that will feel soothing to you in an aware manner so as to not overuse them or hurt yourself with them. in other words, yes, you are now aware you are stressed and have to make time for yourself but you still don't want to eat that salad and would much more appreciate a bowl of mac and cheese. So, you eat the mac and cheese with out desperation, in full awareness and grace and soon discover you only wanted a little bit of it to feel better. Or you may well polish the whole thing off and be happy and able to move on because you have chosen to listen to yourself and haven't made yourself the villain of your own story just because you were having an emotional day and decided to eat comfort foods.
This particular topic is quite varied and I will likely keep discussing it with you all in different ways as time moves on. But for today, I hope I am leaving you with the realization and the knowledge that you are not a bad person for wanting to soothe your emotions through food and that you can choose otherwise when needed OR to simply soothe in a different way (remember that breath-work, intuitive movement and mediation are all also phenomenal ways to soothe our souls) so long as you are present, honest and ready to heal even when it may be a little uncomfortable.
Does this message resonate with you? I would love to hear from you :-) - Feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org And if you feel like this help is important on your journey to health and you want to schedule a 1:1 consulation with me, I am here to help you thrive, as always ;-)