Of course you do! But wait– before you answer so quickly, take a moment and really think about all that your emotional eating does for you. Without realizing it, it might just be your best friend. Which of the items on the following list apply to your emotional eating?
- It’s always there for me and never abandons me
- It never criticizes or shames me, even though I feel shame about it
- It’s always reliable
- It’s great company when I’m lonely
- It nurtures and soothes me like nothing or no one else can
- It’s a constant source of pleasure
- It’s a guaranteed good time
- It’s a good distraction
- It’s a fun way to procrastinate
- It helps me deal with boredom
- It’s often exciting and stimulating
- It changes my brain chemistry
- It relaxes me and helps me unwind
- It calms my anxiety
- It temporarily fills up an inner emptiness
- It helps me cope with the feeling of being overwhelmed
- It helps me avoid dealing with other issues in my life
- I can use it as the main excuse for not getting on with my life (going back to school, beginning dating, completing a project and so on.)
Perhaps you’re truly ambivalent about giving up your emotional eating. But the truth is, you need a new best friend. A new best forever friend. And the good news is that you need look no further than the mirror. I know, you’ve heard it said so many times–that you need to be your own best friend. You know it’s true, but how do you go about becoming this? After all, you can’t just wish it to be so.
Change begins with awareness. First you must be aware of all the ways your emotional eating works for you.The above list is a good start. Next, make a list of all the ways it doesn’t work for you. Your list might include things like:
- It always makes me feel ashamed, guilty and depressed
- It makes me feel hopeless and powerless
- It puts extra weight on my body
- At times, it makes me feel sick and bloated
- It’s ruining my health
- It makes me want to isolate
- I do it in secrecy and I’m not proud of it
- It doesn’t solve any of my problems
- It’s not a very good listener
- It keeps me stuck
- It makes me feel like an addict
- It eats up time I could use for other endeavors
- It makes me feel like a failure.
You may want to post this second list on your refrigerator as a reminder.
Now, take the first list and think about ways you could meet the needs mentioned on that list, without turning to food. This is where your focus needs to be and it will involve skill building. Every time you want to eat when you’re not hungry, eat when you’re already full, or choose unhealthy comfort food, pull away from the food for a few minutes and ask yourself the following two questions:
- What am I feeling?
- What am I truly longing for, other than food? What is it that I need?
Once you’ve answered these questions (and it’s best to write the answers down–you’ll stay more focused), see if you can access an inner nourishing voice that can help you address your true non-food needs. This step serves two main purposes: it helps you both develop and strengthen the voice of what I call the Inner Nurturer (the part of you that can reassure, validate, comfort, soothe, help you regulate challenging emotional states and meet your needs.) If you didn’t have much exposure to nurturing others when you were growing up, this voice may be fairly undeveloped. See if you can model the voice of someone you find or have found nurturing.
Let’s take an example:
On your way home from work, you’re feeling like bingeing, and you’re trying to decide whether to stop at a drive-thru or pick up food and head home. In the drive-thru parking lot, you pull out a pad of paper and begin to get in touch with your feeling self:
What am I feeling? You write “I’m feeling drained from work, lonely, bored, frustrated about not having a life partner or really good, close friends, sad, and hopeless about the future.”
What am I truly longing for? What do I need? “I would really like to have a wonderful life partner and some close friends to spend time with after work and on the weekends. Since my closest friend Anne moved away years ago, it’s been nearly impossible to make another close friend.”
Now try validating and comforting your feeling self using your Inner Nurturer voice: “I can really understand how you’re feeling. And it’s okay to feel those feelings. Ever since Anne moved away, it’s been difficult to make new friends. And I know you’re not feeling good enough about yourself to start dating just yet. I want you to know that I’m here for you, I love you and I can and will help you meet your needs. Rather than drive-thru and get unhealthy comfort food and feel worse afterwards, why don’t we go home, make a healthy dinner, and do something nourishing, like take a bath or watch a good movie. Then, when you feel ready, I’ll help you research ways to go out and meet new people. Together, we can do this. I believe in you.”
In the first months that you’re practicing using this voice, give yourself permission to turn to food after you journal, if you need to. When you’re first trying to develop this voice, it may not feel particularly nourishing. Just keep practicing identifying your feelings and needs and using this voice to regulate emotional states and for soothing and comfort. Over time, you’ll find yourself feeling internally nourished and nurtured and the urge to eat will diminish. Stick with it until you feel this shift.
And take a look in the mirror today. That incredible, wonderful, awesome, nurturing being reflected back to you is waiting to be your best forever friend. You need a new best friend.
Posted by Julie M Simon, MA, MBA, LMFT, 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.
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