Most of us who numb out with food experience an aftermath of guilt, shame, and self-loathing. Sometimes the first awareness we have are negative thoughts associated with an emotional eating binge. Although awareness of these thoughts is important or rather, imperative, this type of thinking is neither kind nor gentle. Negative thoughts, and feeling terrible, are helpful in one way however, they alert us that something is profoundly wrong with our relationship to food.
Our relationship to food mirrors our relationship to ourselves. Maybe we are aware that we use food to numb out. I work with many women who know they have a problem with emotional eating but have no idea how to break the cycle.
The emotional eating cycle consists of four parts:
- The Trigger (causing uncomfortable emotions).
- Eating (mindlessly).
- Remorse, guilt, self-loathing.
- Eating more.
This cycle can perpetuate itself endlessly.
If you’re like me you know it’s impossible to stop at the beginning of the cycle. Emotions can be powerfully distressing and if we haven’t been taught how to deal with them, what then? The process of gentle inquiry helps us intervene at part 3 of the cycle, the berating and shaming part of the cycle. Instead of yelling and punishing we can use a new tool. Become an observer rather than a prosecutor and judge, and gently question yourself:
- What happened today that made me so uncomfortable that I turned to food for solace?
- Did I behave in a way that did not honour me or somebody else today?
- Did I say “yes” to someone when I might have said “no”?
- Did someone else’s behaviour trigger me today by reminding me of something I’m trying to avoid dealing with in myself?
- What are the emotions I’m experiencing telling me about my inner dialog?
Any question will do as long as it doesn’t rake you over the coals. The process of gentle inquiry is a method of self-discovery.
When you answer these questions honestly you begin to change how you show up for yourself. For example, if you constantly try to please people and say “yes”, setting your own needs aside, then you don’t have much energy left to look after yourself later. In fact people-pleasing often leaves us feeling resentful, angry, and unappreciated. Resentment leads to many unhealthy coping behaviours including over-eating. Learning to honour your self-care time by saying “no” is an important tool in breaking the cycle of emotional eating.
There are many gentle and effective tools I teach in my groups and in one-on-one counselling. If emotional-eating is eating you please don’t hesitate to get in touch.