food and feelings

Feelings and Finding Comfort in Food

Photo:  VTAS

Photo:  VTAS

Let's reflect on stress-eating.  

My friend, Erica Duncan, and I recently traded stories about this.  We had both recently received some upsetting news.  We both became immediately drawn to fattening foods (funny how that happens).  I allowed myself to succumb to my sudden urge to overeat unhealthy foods.  Erica resisted it and - instead - thought about her feelings.  I reacted impulsively without acknowledging what I was feeling.  She reflected on what was going on.  

I distinctly remember making an effort to resist cookies and doughnuts that day (yes - that was cookies AND doughnuts).  I wasn't even craving any of it.  My brain switched gears instantly when it became upset.  I plunged into the sweets like a hawk going for the kill without any thought to how my feelings had drastically changed my decision-making process.  Likewise, Erica became upset and started feeling that her worries would melt away in a buttery and flakey chocolate croissant and cafe con leche.  Instead of justifying some mindless eating (as I had done), Erica resisted the urge and directed her energy towards accepting her feelings.  

Accepting feelings.  Not acknowledging them or trying to understand them or making an effort to change them.  But accepting them.  Erica allowed her feelings to be what they were in that moment, without needing to make them vanish.  By allowing herself time to accept her feelings, Erica experienced them fully.  She didn't need the croissant to make the pain "go away" - she accomplished accepting the discomfort, through self-reflection.  I eventually made it to my own personal self-reflection, but it took me much longer and I'm still working off the consequences of those cookies and doughnuts!   

No one can be expected to eat or react perfectly all the time.  But I learned a lot through our experiences. There is a real connection between feelings and food.  All of us are uncomfortable with experiencing (or watching people we love experience) feelings that make us sad, unhappy, or angry.  We believe food makes it all better and relish in the illusion of bliss as we bite into [fill in with fave unhealthy food here that's likely crunchy, soft, salty, or sweet].  Ads also reinforce these perceptions by telling us that food is therapy.  Words like happy, love, warmth, joy, fun, and family are all associated with soda, cookies, candy, cake, fries, chips, and ice cream.        

How much less salt, fat, sugar would we consume in a day, week, month or year if we just let ourselves be the way we are?  What if we stop looking at food as the solution to a problem?  Try it next time you feel stressed, sad, or angry.  Instead of eating ice cream to feel better, acknowledge what you are feeling.  Sit with it. Reflect on it.  Feelings pass.  Situations change.  It's okay to just be.  

On June 12, Geneen Roth posted on facebook the following advice, which is right on point:

Ask yourself what eating from stress really means. What do you believe would happen if you allowed yourself to feel your feelings instead of avoid them or swallow them with food?

Where in your body are your feelings located? What color are they? What texture? What shape? If you don’t know, take a wild guess. Assume you’re innately sane, extraordinarily wise, and your job is to ask questions. You don’t have to manufacture answers. They have been there all the time, sleeping under the brown grocery bag of your broken heart, but you haven’t looked.

Every time you feel stuck, every time you think you know why you are doing something, but you can’t seem to make yourself do it differently, write a dialogue with yourself.

Be open to the outcome. Assume nothing. Be ready for anything. You will be constantly surprised.
— Geneen Roth

Maybe give Roth's method a try.  And if you must eat something, reach for raw vegetables instead!  Nutrient dense food has a better chance of making your brain and body actually be and feel physically better.    

Comfort foods aren't actually comforting at all, FYI.  I felt bloated and tired after my personal stress fest.  Let's not forget that it takes a while to recover too.  I'm definitely going to try to "make it all better" more thoughtfully next time.