PRINCIPLE 7: COPE WITH YOUR EMOTIONS WITHOUT USING FOOD
**NOTE: everything discussed in this blog series is derived from Intuitive Eating and the Intuitive Eating Workbook. As you read these posts, I strongly encourage you to purchase and read both as this series will not be as thorough and informative as the books. Each month we will focus on one principle at a time. Allow yourself the space to simply look at that one principle. My desire for you, dear reader, is that these posts will 1) allow you to dig deep into understanding your relationship with food, 2) that kindness and compassion for yourself will grow, and 3) that you will experience real flourishing as you develop trust with your body.**
It’s a big week of firsts for my just-turned-two-year-old. My husband and I are leaving her with grandparents overnight for our first kid-free vacation and the day after we get home she starts preschool. What’s more, this sweet little girl of mine will begin the week with a fresh round of vaccinations.
As you can imagine, I have experienced a wide array of emotion as I prepared myself for this week. Thus far, I think I have processed those emotions as they have come in. I have been paying attention to what has been happening inside me and I am sharing those things with trusted people. I am naming my sadness, anxiety, and excitement and that helps me work through this Big Week of Transition.
As I write this, I am realizing how radical it is for me to sit in my emotions. Not that many years ago I was an expert at using food to avoid feelings altogether. Mind you, I didn’t realize I was doing this. When I felt a negative emotion I was overcome with the urge to eat so quickly as a way to stuff that negative thing back down. It never worked though and it always landed me in a pit of shame.
While I’ve done a lot of work in the area of food and body image, the week isn’t over. If my daughter sheds big tears on her first day of school I may find myself elbow deep in a family sized bag of m&m’s. But if that happens, it will be ok and I’ll be ok too. Overeating does not have to send me down a spiral of shame anymore. Instead, I can see it as an opportunity to be kind to myself. When I overeat or make impulsive food choices not based on actual hunger, it’s an indicator that something deeper is happening inside me that’s begging to be addressed. At this point in my journey with food, I am grateful that my body has a way of getting my brain’s attention when something had gone awry.
Most of us use food to cope with our emotions at some point in our lives. We are primed for it at a young age. In fact, in the midst of processing all of my fear over what this week may be like for my daughter, I have found myself wanting to use food to numb her to any painful experience that may arise. Series of shots at her two year check up? I can pack cookies in my diaper bag. Leaving her for the weekend? We can have a special mommy date at the bakery when I get back. First day of preschool? It will be ok because we can have a celebratory ice cream when I pick her up.
Let me be clear: I want my daughter to thoroughly enjoy cookies and ice cream. However, I don’t want to teach her to bypass what’s real and placate her emotions with comfort food.
To be honest with you, this is not the easiest option. When my daughter is sad, it is not instinctual for me to make eye contact with her, mirror the expression on her face, and invite her to feel her sadness with me. It’s tempting to distract her from her pain instead of being present in it with her.
Isn’t it tempting for all of us?! Some days, distraction feels far more desirable than living in the midst of painful feelings. Whether you choose food, alcohol, Netflix, or relationships, we all stuff down big emotions sometimes.
What I would ask of you, dear reader, is to notice the next time you have the urge to check out. Ask yourself what emotion you are trying to avoid. What does it stir in you? Maybe you need to get together with a friend or set up an appointment with a counselor to process what comes up. Be kind to yourself. You matter and all of your feelings do, too.
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