If you could handle emotions without turning to food, what would life be like? The first time I heard this question, I remember thinking, “What”? I have never thought about handling emotions in non-edible ways. What is stress? It is nothing that a nice cinnamon roll cannot fix. How about anxiety? Pass the chips, please. Oh, and happiness? Let us celebrate with a nice big, thick, creamy piece of chocolate cake. Yes, food is the end all and be all for any emotion you want to throw my way.
Why is that? Why do I, and a million other people, use food to “make it better”? Food is used to meet our emotional needs in two ways, to help us avoid something or to comfort ourselves. How does it help us avoid? Have you ever had a to-do list a mile long? And, have you ever just sat in front of the television with a bag of chips instead of tackling that list? Yes? Me too. If we are distracted, we do not have to admit that we are avoiding doing something. After all, eating chips in front of the television IS doing something. Right?
We also use food as avoidance of negative feelings. I have tried many times to stuff the feelings of stress, anxiety and anger down my throat. I have forced these emotions into the recesses of my stomach by using pizza rolls, french fries and pop tarts that take the feelings down my esophagus with them. If only my body would digest and expel the emotions the way it does the food. It would leave all of the “nutrients”, such as good, positive feelings and get rid of all of the toxins, the negative, energy robbing emotions. But, at the end of the day, I am left with the same emotions I started out with, adding guilt and shame to the list.
Many of us use food to comfort ourselves. There is nothing more satisfying at the end of a long, hard, emotionally draining day than some ice cream or chocolate chip cookies. After all, if no one else was nice to us today, it is our responsibility to be nice to ourselves. And, nothing says “nice” like chocolate. After we are done treating ourselves, again the guilt and shame creep in and we are left feeling horrible. How do we deal with that? We comfort ourselves with more food. And thus, the vicious cycle repeats.
So, how do we break these cycles? First, we have to accept a cold, hard truth. Nothing ever goes away by avoiding it. Think back to a time when you were presented with an issue and you handled it right up front. How did that feel? You felt empowered. You felt like anything was possible. Even if the ending did not turn out like you had planned, you dealt with the issue and then you did not have to think about it anymore. It is like a weight was lifted and you could move on. If you tackle issues as they present themselves, you are allowing yourself to save time and energy on other things that may come your way. There is no advantage to delaying issues until later if they can be dealt with right when they happen. As the saying goes, “making a bad decision is better than making no decision at all.” So, make a decision and then move on.
Second, name one emotion that food successfully deals with. I am waiting. There isn’t one, is there? In fact, just the opposite is true. Using food only adds more negative emotions to the mix. Whatever you were feeling that drove you to food is multiplied by the guilt and shame you feel for eating the food to begin with. Now, you have more emotions to try to eat away. As the emotions get stronger and more intense, the amount of food necessary to try to soften or stifle these emotions gets larger in quantity.
So, now that we realize that food will not solve our emotional issues, we can take actions that will help us in our trek toward healing our emotions without the use of food. When you have a craving for a particular food (perhaps it is something sweet or something salty) stop yourself before you even take a bite. Ask yourself, “What happened just prior to me getting this craving and what am I feeling right now?” Chances are that you can pinpoint something that caused you an intense emotion. Maybe your boss just gave you a new project that is due in two days and now you feel a time constraint. Maybe your spouse just called and said that he or she would not be home in time to take you out to dinner like you had planned and you are disappointed. Maybe your child just came to you and asked to go on a field trip that you know you cannot afford but “all my friends are going. PLEASE!”
By acknowledging your feelings, you are not as tempted to try to distract or comfort yourself with food. You know that there is a cause for feeling the way you do. And, it gives you the opportunity to come up with ways to solve your issues or concerns along with ways that do not involve eating yourself out of house and home. After all, you know that food will not solve anything other than true, physical hunger. If you are stressed about time constraints, you can take a look at your schedule and figure out what needs to be done, and when, so that you hit your deadline. If you are disappointed by something that either did or did not happen as planned, you can acknowledge it and plan to do something else that you would look forward to. If finances appear to be an issue, you can budget and work with your income to make a decision regarding whether you are willing and/or able to spend money on a certain item.
If you crave comfort because of things that are beyond your control, you can come up with comfort in non-food ways. Snuggle up with a blanket and a good book on the couch. Take a long, hot bath. Take a walk and enjoy nature. Call a friend and talk out your concerns. Write in a journal. Do what makes you happy, gives you comfort and provides you with solace.
So now I ask again, if you could handle emotions without food, what would life be like? I hope you have a better, brighter picture than when I first asked this question. What would it be like for me? It would mean family gatherings that focused around creating precious memories as opposed to creating increasing waistlines. It would mean celebrating successes with a manicure and pedicure and not a piece of cake. It would mean meeting life head on, making decisions and taking chances. Am I there yet? Let’s just say I am a work in progress and I’m happy with where I am at this moment in time. I hope that you are too!