Self-awareness as a path to healing emotional eating was fully explored in my last blog post. I hope it was helpful, self-awareness is always where we have to begin in order to welcome and enter into the process of change. If we don’t know what the problem is, it is difficult to create solutions that can lead towards the change process. Self-awareness is helpful, but knowing what the problem is alone unfortunately doesn’t lead to change.
Now that you have the awareness of the why behind the patterns of any emotional or stress eating, the next step is to begin to confront and heal the underlying emotional suppression and stressors driving the behavior. It is necessary to offer yourself space so that you can create a deeper understanding of the inner world of your emotions. When you create a willingness to get present in the here and the now, and to feel whatever there is to feel inside, you can begin to create this deeper knowledge that moves you along a path towards true inner knowing and ultimately change. This process of emotional awareness, connection, and expression is difficult—really it’s the hardest part— as it has been what the emotional and stress eating has been suppressing for most likely a really long time.
When you can acknowledge that emotional eating is not about the food, not about having a lack of willpower or ability to stick with a diet or wellness program, but about emotional suppression, this awareness leads to a continued journey inward. This journey inward brings you in contact with your emotions in a new way and you can learn to become, with time and practice, more and more comfortable with feeling your feelings. As you walk this new path and create these deeper awarenesses you begin to develop a new language, intelligence, acceptance, and understanding of your rich, inner world of feelings and emotions in a way that can be eye opening, powerful, and truly life changing.
If you are ready to continue along your journey towards healing from emotional and stress eating patterns, I recommend that you start by keeping a feelings journal. Having this one place to begin to explore your feelings in a nonjudgemental, curious, and open way creates a gentle and yet specific container for this inner work. Having a dedicated place to explore your feelings can feel scary and yet comforting and even hopeful at the same time.
Just the act of naming how you are feeling can begin to reduce the discomfort associated with some feeling states and emotions. Once you can offer a specific name to the feelings or emotions, you can explore them more and more deeply. Eventually, you will create a relationship with your emotional world that is healthy, open, and welcoming versus the suppression, avoidance, and numbing that has been the previous internal response to these feeling states and emotions.
As you begin to cozy up with your emotions more frequently, you may not initially notice much change in your relationship with food. That is normal and ok. That part will come with integration, practice, and beginning to offer new ways to explore, cope and soothe the emotions you have been numbing out for some time. As you begin this self-exploratory work, try to keep the focus on the emotional exploration, not the food, and see whatever it is that will unfold for you on your personal path to healing.
I recommend you go through the following journal prompts either in the moment when you are experiencing a specific feeling state or emotion, or even after the fact if you miss it in the moment. Use these prompts to grow your emotional awareness and expand your self-awareness through the journaling process:
First, if you don’t have a language for emotions, I recommend this feelings wheel as a great tool to study, get familiar with, and use every time you use your feelings journal.
Whether you are using this process to explore in the moment of experiencing a specific emotion, or in an effort to understand a recent feeling state more completely, look through your feelings wheel and consider, what emotion am I feeling right now (or did I feel at the time)? Name the emotion and write it down. See the name written on the paper and observe the name of this emotion.
Notice, where do I feel this emotion in my body? See if you can simply sit with the feelings you are experiencing in your physical body for a moment, and write it all down.
Ask yourself, have I been triggered or is this emotion congruent with my present experience? Again, write it all down.
If the feeling is not congruent with your current experience, can you journal about why it might be here and why you might feel triggered? For example, if you are feeling lonely but you are surrounded by people, journal about where the loneliness may be coming from, what you might be avoiding, or if you have been triggered and are experiencing old loneliness. Journal it all out.
Ask yourself, what is the message this emotion has for me, what does it want for me to know, what is its purpose right now? Write it all down, whether it is congruent with your current experience or not, it is important to begin to read the language of emotions, what do they represent, what are they here to express to and for you?
Now, try to observe this emotion in a nonjudgemental way, meaning can you be with the feeling without labeling the feeling as a good feeling or a bad feeling, but just information in the form of a feeling? Let yourself sit with the feeling and consider the awareness that it may be uncomfortable right now, or maybe it’s pleasant right now, and that it is here for a reason. Write down your experience of practicing nonjudgement of this specific emotion.
Now, spend a moment just being present with this emotion. Let it be however it presents itself to you in this moment. How does it feel to not push it away? Practice being with it and letting it be without resistance. Write down your experience. Please know that this may not be a pleasant experience and that your mind and body may fight to numb out or avoid the feeling. Remind yourself that you contain within you inner strength, remind yourself that you can indeed handle experiencing discomfort. Remind yourself that all feelings pass. Let yourself know that what you experience as discomfort today will feel like strength tomorrow, this is how emotional resilience develops. Write down your experience.
Now, using your feelings wheel, or just ask yourself, what is the opposite feeling state of this feeling/emotion? For example, if you are bored, the opposite feeling state could be engaged, present, or interested. If you are lonely, the opposite feeling state could be connected, warm hearted or safe. Write down the opposite feeling state/emotion of the feeling you have been exploring.
Now, ask yourself, what might help me to feel this opposite feeling state? For example, if you are bored, maybe doing something creative, reading, writing, taking a walk, calling a friend, listening to music, or doing some cleaning will help to create this opposite feeling state. If you are feeling lonely, maybe you could reach out to a friend, search for a book club (or other social experience of interest to you with like-minded people) do something to improve your relationship with yourself, write a letter to someone you care about or take yourself out on a date.
Now, ask yourself, is it possible to do something right now to help myself cultivate this opposite feeling state in this moment? If yes, do it, and then come back and journal about your experience.
Ask yourself, what does this feeling/emotion need (besides food) to fully release it? Write it down.
As yourself, can I give the emotion what it needs, why or why not? Write it down.
Ask yourself, is there something I can do to cope with this feeling in a non-food way if more space and time is needed to release it? Write it all down.
This practice of emotional awareness and exploration can open up your internal world in a whole new way. Try to work through both comfortable and uncomfortable emotions, the only difference is acknowledging the opposite feeling states of more comfortable emotions without necessarily putting yourself into circumstances that would create those less comfortable feelings.
The most challenging aspect of this work tend to be letting yourself really identify the feeling as you may have gotten really, really good at emotional avoidance, shutting down and blocking out feelings. That is ok and part of the process. Try doing the journaling prompt on a feeling that you are not currently experiencing just to go through the exercise with a feeling you’ve experienced in the past, or one that you could imagine what your responses may be. The more time you spend considering emotions the more likely you will be to begin feeling into your true emotional world, no matter how scary it seems.
The second most challenging aspect of this work is letting yourself sit with the discomfort and feel into the emotion. To just be present with the emotion and how it makes your body feel, what it brings up for you, how it influences your thinking or your mood state or outlook on life. As best you can, let yourself notice your resistance and desire to avoid this feeling and see if you can just feel it anyway, even if just for 10 seconds, increasing the amount of time over time. When you practice getting comfortable with being uncomfortable you create more opportunities to feel close to yourself and others by being vulnerable, open and honest.
I hope you find this work to be helpful, eye opening and useful in your personal journey towards emotional awareness, acceptance and expression. If you find this to be too overwhelming or uncomfortable, it can be helpful to work with a therapist through this process, please know that you are not alone and that there are people and supports available to help you along the way.