Some Thoughts on Emotional Eating to Chew On

Two fine examples of chilling out done right

I saw this quote and thought it was insightful . . . and I thought “Hey, this definitely applies to emotional eating.”

Pain is not wrong. Reacting to pain as wrong initiates the trance of unworthiness. The moment we believe something is wrong, our world shrinks and we lose ourselves in the effort to combat the pain.     – Tara Brach

I don’t like pain, emotional or physical.  Do you?  Does anyone?  Still, although it’s not something I wish for, I am beginning to look it in the face more directly these days.  (Yes – beginning to . . . !)

It does seem like a real change in outlook to see pain as an opportunity for learning and growing.  The usual (unconscious) reaction is to look for an escape from it.  I have noticed, when I am able to be more of an observer of my suffering, it is less powerful.  It is less scary too.  Somehow it keeps me from thinking, “This shouldn’t be happening to me.”

I had a very poignant experience with physical pain 24 years ago.   While I was in labor preparing for my daughter’s birth, I had a spontaneous thought.  “What if I just were to surrender to the pain instead of tightening up as the contractions hit?  Wouldn’t that help the birthing process move along easier?”

Sure enough,  it seemed to do just that, and she was born shortly after.  Of course it hurt, but it gave me a purpose that felt more real than just resisting a natural process.  It didn’t feel as negative.  I didn’t feel like it shouldn’t be happening – the pain that is.  I felt a part of it, working with it, instead of tightening up and working against it.

Thankfully, I have no chronic pain – physical, that is – but emotional pain occasionally rattles my happy life.  It is true that time helps.  Everything changes – the good AND the painful.  This is easier to see now than it was when I was 15 or 25 (or 35 or 40!).  Each time there is pain and I see it dissipate, I realize nothing will last forever.  Knowing that makes it easier to just observe with the mindset that “This is just what it is.  My feelings will not last.”  Even if conditions don’t change, I find that feelings always do.

As a weight loss counselor, I hear many stories about emotional pain and food.  The visual that comes to mind is that eating in response to pain is like kicking and screaming in resistance to it – kinda like a little tantrum, right?!  The eating is a way of saying, “This isn’t fair!  It’s not OK for me to feel this way.  I need to get rid of the pain now, and I think food will do that.”  Emotional eating is like a red flag signaling resistance (a reaction) to the current moment in time (a situation) although it is usually far from obvious to the sufferer.

I think viewing emotional pain as something that is not “wrong”, but something that just is, could take a lot of the resistance (and calories) out of the situation.  Changing the attitude to one of acceptance – not necessarily enjoyment – when mood sinks, can transform emotional and physical health.  From a weight loss standpoint, it’s not a bad plan either.  Struggling to get rid of all pain can add up to lots of extra calories.  And all food really does for the pain is slap a temporary band-aid on it anyway.

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