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Are Unmet Needs Sending You to the Refrigerator?

Does it feel like you’re living your life, day-to-day, with many of your needs unmet? Do you think this may have something to do with your overeating or imbalanced eating? If so, you’re not alone. Many people, frustrated by years of unmet needs, find themselves regularly turning to food for emotional comfort, pleasure, soothing, escape, excitement and distraction.

At any point in time, it’s normal to have some needs that are unmet. Perhaps close friends have moved away and you long for more nourishing, available local connections. You may be newly separated or divorced and short on good companionship and intimacy. Or maybe you have plenty of good connection with others in your life and yearn for more quality alone time–for self-connection, reflection and quietude.

Maybe you yearn to be heard, understood, loved, validated, touched, valued and appreciated by family members, a significant other, peers or close friends. Perhaps your life feels stagnant and unfulfilling. Do you feel stuck in a rut and as if you’re just going through the motions? Do you long to have more purpose, meaning and passion in your life?

Maybe you haven’t the faintest idea what you need or what would fulfill you–you just know you feel unsatisfied. And since you can’t just snap your fingers and have your needs immediately met, you settle for feeling full rather than feeling fulfilled.

Clearly, the first step towards meeting your needs is to know what they are. You have to be able to identify a problem before you can solve it. And it’s important not to have any judgment in this part of the process. There aren’t good or bad needs. Just like there aren’t good or bad feelings. When getting clear on your needs, try not to get too far ahead of yourself by predicting that your needs can’t or won’t be met. Negative or pessimistic thinking only leads to a sense of powerlessness and hopelessness and more emotional eating. Stick with just identifying your needs.

You may find that your current needs correspond to an earlier phase of development that you weren’t able to fully complete. Jane, age thirty-nine, needs a lot of understanding and validation from significant others in her life. She was regularly shamed and criticized as a child and continues to struggle with self-doubt. Karen, age fifty-two, needs a hug and reassurance from her husband when she feels unsure of herself. Her childhood sorely lacked affection, comfort and soothing. Susan, single again at age forty-five, feels she needs to “play the field” and not settle down. She never dated much in her younger years.

You may discover that your needs are unsupported by and seemingly different from the current “norm.” Regina, age twenty-five, finds she needs a lot of alone time. She feels overstimulated and drained by too much social interaction and noise. She feels inadequate because she can’t handle “life in the fast lane” and she regularly compares herself to friends and colleagues who can. Tiffany wants to devote herself full-time to raising her children, especially when they are small. Even though she feels she needs a flexible schedule to be the best mom she can be, she also secretly feels something must be wrong with her because other mom’s seem to be able to do it all–hold down full-time professional jobs and raise their kids. Grace battles depression and feels she needs to regularly grieve the losses and disappointments of her childhood and her twenty-year marriage that ended a few years back. Even though she needs quality listening and support from friends and family, she rarely feels that she can share her sad feelings with them. Her need to grieve is unsupported by a culture that shuns the expression of unpleasant emotions and places value on “getting over it.”

It truly doesn’t matter whether your needs hark back to an earlier time period or whether they are at odds with current cultural norms and trends. They are your needs and they are valid. The second step towards meeting your needs is acceptance of them. This means embracing your needs and where you’re at in your life. You must stop beating yourself up for whatever you’re feeling or needing. Those closest to you may not be able or willing to meet your needs, but this does not mean your needs are not valid. Tell yourself: “Even though my sister doesn’t want to listen to my sadness, it’s okay for me to be sad.” “It’s all right for me to need reassurance when I push myself out in new arenas.” “My husband may not be capable of mirroring back my feelings, but it’s okay for me to need quality mirroring.”

Getting clear on your needs is not a one time event; rather it is a regular daily process. You do this by checking in with yourself several times a day. When you experience the sensation of hunger, you ask yourself what you’re hungry for. Similarly, let your feelings lead you to your needs by asking yourself “what am I feeling right now?” This will naturally lead to “what am I needing?”

A question I get asked frequently by overeating clients is: What do I do when I’ve identified my needs and they can’t be easily met?” For example,

“I can’t change jobs over night and I hate my job.I have to deal with difficult people all day long and I’m miserable.”

“I’m in an unsatisfying marriage but I can’t leave because I couldn’t afford to live on my own.”

“I don’t have an intimate partner and I’m lonely and crave companionship and touch.”

“I don’t have good, close friends and I long for connection and understanding.”

“I am inundated with care-taking duties and I don’t have any help or support.”

No doubt, you deserve support, companionship, connection, care and a sense of meaning and purpose in your life. And at any point in time, you might find yourself coming up short in any of these departments.These are the times that provide the opportunity to practice the third step in meeting your needs: make regular contact with your Inner Nurturer. This is the wise, kind, unconditionally loving, understanding, soothing and comforting voice inside that can validate your needs and help you find creative ways to meet them. This is the part of you that can encourage you when there is no one else to turn to.This is the voice inside that can reassure you, give you hope and remind you that you are a good and worthy person.

You may be much more familiar with the voice of the Inner Critic if you were raised by critical, judgmental caregivers. If so, now is the time to practice and strengthen your Inner Nurturer voice. Begin by writing down your thoughts about a need that feels unmet, and then write down comforting and encouraging statements using your Inner Nurturer voice. At this point, don’t worry about finding solutions; just get practice comforting yourself. This will go a long way towards curbing your emotional eating.

Let’s see what the Inner Nurturer might say in the above examples:

“I can’t change jobs over night and I hate my job. I have to deal with difficult people all day long and I’m miserable.”

Inner Nurturer: “I understand how uncomfortable it feels to keep going to work and dealing with difficult people all day. I want to remind you that you do not have to stay at a job that you dislike. You deserve to be happy and fulfilled by your work. I believe in you and I know there is just the right fit out there for you. I know together we can make a positive change. When you feel ready, I’ll help you research other options.”

“I’m in an unsatisfying marriage but I can’t leave because I couldn’t afford to live on my own.”

Inner Nurturer: “I know that you feel trapped in this marriage because of finances. You absolutely do not have to spend the rest of your life married to someone who doesn’t consider your needs. I know that you are afraid to be on your own. I also know that when you are ready, the right doors will open to make it happen. Until then, I’m here with you every day and I’ve got your back.”

“I don’t have an intimate partner and I’m lonely and crave companionship and touch.”

Inner Nurturer: “Of course you crave companionship and touch. Those are basic needs. I know that there is a wonderful partner out there for you. When you are ready, we can focus on ways to meet someone. For now, you have me as your forever partner and I love you unconditionally.”

“I don’t have good, close friends and I long for connection and understanding.”

Inner Nurturer: “I can really understand your longing for those needs to be met. We all need connection and understanding. I am here with you and I can always provide that for you. Then, when we make some new friends, the connection and understanding we get from them will be icing on the cake.” (Food pun intended!)

“I am inundated with care-taking duties and I don’t have any help or support.”

Inner Nurturer: “I know that right now you’re feeling swamped with all your responsibilities and that there isn’t enough support. I want you to know that I’m here with you, you deserve support, and I’ll help you figure out ways to get the support you need.”

If you’re having trouble accessing your own inner nurturing voice, try on the voice of someone you find or have found nurturing, such as a therapist, mentor, relative or good friend. You may also want to consider joining a support group or working with a therapist or coach. This can be a great way of having regular exposure to nurturing others.

The fourth and final step in meeting your needs: set your intention and commit to one baby step of action.Choose a baby step that is doable; one that you can definitely commit to. This baby step can be as small as intending to reread this blog article or to just make a list of your unmet needs. The key here is to set an intention and commit to some action. Setting an intention and following through on it builds self-esteem and confidence. And when you feel better about yourself and your life, you are less likely to turn to food for comfort.

Which unmet needs are sending you to the refrigerator?

Posted by Julie M Simon, MA, MBA, MFT, psychotherapist and life coach, certified personal trainer, founder and director of The 12 Week Emotional Eating Recovery Program and author of The Emotional Eater’s Repair Manual and When Food Is Comfort. If you have a question or topic you’d like to see addressed in this blog, go to https://overeatingrecovery.com.

Image courtesy of Vincenzo Giove from pexels.com

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