Why eating your feelings makes sense—and how to stop

Emotional eating works.

That’s an uncomfortable statement, right?

But it’s true. That’s why the overeating hangs around even when we’re desperate to make a change.

In the moment, food can effectively dull emotions. 

Instead of feeling the feeling, eating can distract, numb, suppress or side-step whatever it is we don’t want to feel.

The following analogies are often useful:

  • Flick an empty crystal glass and it chimes. Fill the glass with wine and the chime is muted. (Emotions are the chime, food is the wine.)
  • Press the eject button to leave the aeroplane as quickly as possible. (Emotions are the plane, food is the eject button.)
  • Wrap up in a soft blanket of snuggly warmth and comfort to block out the cold. (Emotions are the cold, food is the blanket.)
If you consider yourself an emotional eater, this blog offers an idea to experiment with.

It’s a story about a child, because children often operate without the social filters we’ve learned and layered on over time. And, of course, there’s a child inside each of us.

I had to tell my 11-year old daughter that her cat had been run over.

He was our first pet and, before him, I’d been completely naive to the joy and love animals can bring.

Asha was adored by all of us—full of character and quirky habits, a “people cat” who loved to be loved.

When she heard he was gone, my daughter screamed. A roar of pain and disbelief.

And then she cried. Then screamed again.

I watched her cycle through feeling shocked, distraught, bereft, and outraged.

She couldn’t see a way through the intense grief she found herself in.

And she didn’t try to. The feelings came and she accepted them as being the only option.

They were the pure feelings of love and loss. And she let them be.

A few days later she woke up and said, “I feel a little bit better. I didn’t think I ever would.”

She had felt emotions she would never have wished for.

But she didn’t try to force them away or lessen them—because she couldn’t see how that was even possible.

Instead, she felt everything that needed to be felt, and allowed the energy to move through.

It came in waves. It shifted and changed.

In time, she could move on.

Food acts really well to block emotions. 

We feel less in the moment, yet the feeling isn’t able to move through. It’s blocked from being fully experienced and running its natural course.

I’ve eaten my way through exams and break-ups, missed work deadlines and grueling commutes, surviving small children and moving house.

Instead of being muffled with food, what if the stress and rejection, embarrassment and fatigue, boredom and loneliness were allowed to be exactly as they were?

To be felt intensely until they gradually shifted and dissipated.

Just turning toward feelings—opening to them with acceptance—almost always eases them a fraction.

Perhaps you’d like to dip your toe and experiment with this idea.

The best place to start is to simply notice how you’re feeling right now, whatever that might be, and settle in.

  • What’s it like to let the feeling be there?
  • How does it show up for you? 
  • Where do you sense it in your body?
  • How does it change over time?

You might just find that food isn’t always the answer.

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