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How to Develop a Healthy Relationship with Food and Feelings

When working with clients who suffer from binge eating, I speak with them about how their feelings play a significant role in their relationship with food. And they're always surprised at how much not being able to accept their feelings affects this relationship. 

Here’s what it comes down to: when we’re not willing to feel and welcome all of our feelings (the good and the not-so-good), we will find something to numb them out. It’s not natural for us to feel uncomfortable and simply do nothing about it. When we’re uncomfortable, we act. 

So, the choice we are left with is: how will we act? We can either learn to feel through the uncomfortable feelings, or train ourselves to run to something else to distract from the discomfort, including food, alcohol, and other common addictions.

Welcoming all of our feelings is worth it, and here’s why… 

It’s often the anticipation of a feeling that is the hardest to deal with. When something negative happens, the anticipation of how bad this feeling will be often has us running to the fridge. 

However, when we see that the anticipation is actually the hardest part, and relief is around the corner, we feel safer to authentically feel. 

When we feel safe with our feelings, there’s nothing pushing us toward the cupboard or fridge (and you wouldn't believe how much binge eating stems from this place of fear or discomfort!).

We feel uncomfortable that we had a tough day at work. 

We feel uncomfortable that they guy we met yesterday hasn't text us back. 

We feel uncomfortable that we want to lose weight, but feel burdened by how much effort we expect it'll take. 

So, how do you deal with all these feelings? 

  1. Welcome them by whispering to your heart “this feeling is welcome here.” 
  2. Remind yourself that the anticipation of a feeling is the most intense. Don’t worry, you’re already through he most intense part. 
  3. Feel through it. You have compassion for yourself. You relate yourself to others, and think thoughts to validate how you feel: “Wow, this is hard to feel.” You also remind yourself that everyone has hard days and moments. This helps you to know that what you’re experiencing is a normal part of life; you're not alone. 
  4. Appreciate yourself for feeling, and you reassure yourself that you’re totally capable of getting through the hard stuff. You experience first hand that we are given the grace we need when we need it, and you confirm that the next time something hard comes up, you are safe to feel through it. 

I don't know about you, but it's essential for me that I am real with myself and look at what actually happens when I choose x, y, or z. 

So, let’s look at what actually happens when discomfort comes up and we eat (or rely on anything else) to numb it out: 

You feel discomfort, you dislike it, so you walk to the cupboard and grab a quick snack. You eat to feel something different; to feel the food in your stomach. You keep going. You’re halfway distracted. You walk back and forth from the couch to the kitchen, promising each bite will be your last. When the snacking is finally over (or the food is gone), you’re full, but not satisfied. You wonder "why did I just do that?" and your mind is now consumed by food and your struggles with it.  

You're distracted, but nothing has actually changed. You're distracted, but tomorrow, when you're no longer distracted by the immediate thoughts that follow a binge, those feelings will still be there. It's a new day, and you'll have to deal. This is where cyclical dieting and bingeing comes in. 

How do you want to feel next time an uncomfortable feeling shows up for you? Do you want to welcome it, remember that it will be okay, and get through it? Or, do you want to rely on food (or anything else) to distract yourself, only to feel worse afterward?

The truth is, at some point, you will have to deal with whatever discomfort is coming your way. It's much healthier, and will leave you feeling much more whole, to deal with the tough stuff as it comes up. The longer you wait, the harder it becomes. 

The next time you’re about to reach for the food, play the situation forward: What is it really going to do for you to eat to numb an uncomfortable thought or feeling? Will it actually help you?

Be honest with yourself and see it through. I believe in you and so should you!

This article was contributed by Paige Burton, a Health Coach and graduate of The Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Click here to learn more about becoming a Health Coach yourself by sampling a free class from IIN.


Photo Credit: iStock