Allowing and being with cravings and other feelings instead of resisting them, is the path to freedom from overeating. Rebecca Schauer, RDN Find Freedom with Food.

Sitting through emotional cravings and other urges to overeat

Cravings and other feelings

"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom." — Victor E. Frankl.

When we get emotionally triggered, always the best thing to do is not react, but to sit through the feeling and let it pass.

Is this easy? Not always.

Especially if we never gained the skill of feeling our feelings, which many people have not.

Most of us learn how to distract, escape, or numb from our feelings, but we are not skilled at fully feeling them and processing them.

One weekend I was emotionally triggered by a situation and it didn’t pass quickly.

First I was very sad, and then it changed to anger. I was so tempted to respond to these emotions with action, by reaching out to the person who triggered me, thinking that reacting would make it “better.”

But these were MY thoughts and emotions that I needed to process, and it was not the other person’s responsibility to make them go away. 

So I sat with them; I wrote out my anger, screaming it out on paper, with tears and all. The next day when I woke up the cloud had cleared and I was so thankful I had not reached out to that person because it would've only made a bigger and more stressful situation. I felt relieved that I chose to take time to process and feel my feelings.

Emotions are a part of being human. But if we take action on every uncomfortable feeling we have, life can get pretty messy and stressful.

One of the common ways we might take action from our feelings is by escaping into food, instead of feeling and processing and understanding what we are feeling.

It is a skill to sit through feelings without reacting to them.

If you always react, it's ok, you can still gain the skill.

To help with this, we have to remember that feelings don’t define us. They are not who we are, they are just sensations we experience.

They are a vibration in our body that started from our thoughts about a situation.

Both thoughts and feelings come and go, like clouds in the sky.

It's better we don’t try to hold onto them by attaching meaning to them. Wellbeing comes from just observing thoughts and feeling and letting them go. Because they ALWAYS go, if we let them (just like clouds do).

When we habitually soothe ourselves with food rather than sitting with our emotions and understanding them, this “unfelt” and “stuffed down” emotion can turn up as constant cravings & urges to avoid our feelings. We start to confuse our emotions with  needing for food.

Overtime by repetition, this way of being with food becomes a strong habit; emotional eating is  just who we are and what we do.

We constantly confuse certain emotional states with hunger and automatically eat from those emotions.

We get disconnected from our bodies true physical needs, and use our emotions and feelings to decide when & what to eat instead.

The next time you feel stressed or upset and catch yourself going to food, pause for a moment and investigate what is going on in you mind.  "What is the story I am telling myself that is making me feel this way?"

Then connect with your body and ask, "Am I physically hungry?"

Sometimes when we’ve been confusing emotional hunger for physical hunger for a long time, it can be difficult to recognize which is which.

However, when we can re-connect with our body and it's language for true hunger, we can then begin to break the habit of emotional eating.

Our body can again lead us to when and how much to eat (the way we are naturally designed). And when we practice allowing those emotional urges without reacting to them, over time those urges to eat emotionally go away.

The emotions still come (we are human), but we can feel them and process them, and that drive to eat because of our emotions no longer happens.

The last thing I will say is that resisting feelings & emotions is not the same as allowing them.

What's the difference?

You will know when you are resisting a feeling because you will be judging it and wishing it wasn't there. And this tends to make it more unbearable and makes you want to eat to escape from it even more.

Allowing a feeling is about acceptance. You notice it, you feel the possible discomfort of the feeling, but you accept that it is there. You don't make it wrong for being there, or try to distract yourself from it. You breath into it and realize that it will go away, and you don't have to fear it because feelings are natural.

You accept it's there and you get curious about the thoughts & mental chatter that are creating the feeling.

I teach my clients that allowing emotional urges and cravings for food has two key parts. 1) Recognizing the urge as emotional by understanding your body and its language for physical hunger. 2) Understanding your thoughts that are creating the emotions that are urging you to eat.

Then you can practice breath into that emotion and feeling it, and not eating in that moment.  When you practice this on repeat you can very easily train your brain out of an emotional eating habit.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *