Resisting the urge to eat with our emotions is always a lot easier when life is peaceful because there are fewer external factors pushing our buttons. But life rarely stays peaceful for long. There will always be work, stress, relationships, illness, fights, upsets and many other things that food can make us feel better about quickly. But there is a hard truth in that; these things shouldn’t be quick. To get out of the habit of wanting to push life away, we have to learn to be secure enough in our self and our emotion to know we can handle whatever comes at us, not with food, but with recognition. Recognising why it is raising emotion in us, choosing what action to take and accepting that sometimes we just have to let things be because there is nothing we can do. Letting uncomfortable emotion be there without wanting to push it away is growth; it is us growing up and learning to be in the world without being afraid of what it can do to us.
There are three options I recommend to clients when something big hits:
1. Understand your reaction to it as a way of showing you what is truly important to you. If a relationship breaks down, understand what part of the loss is worrying you. If work becomes overwhelming, examine what part of it is making it so. It might not be the relationship or the job that matters to you. It might be the thought of never finding someone else that worries you or of failing at work and being found out. Often it is the change and how we will handle it that really scares us.
2. Decide if it is more important than you. You get to decide whether something happening in your life is worth sacrificing your mental wellbeing. Anything that raises enough emotion in you to want to eat is affecting your happiness and therefore your health, you have to make a choice whether it is really important enough to you to let it destroy your work so far. You might not be able to change it, but you can decide whether or not it changes how you feel.
3. Let it take you in. Letting it overwhelm you is always an option, and a lot of the time it is the easy one no matter how painful it may feel. If your relationship breaks down and you feel the need to eat, food is always going to be easier than doing the work to feel better. If you need to let it pull you in then do that, but don’t do it in the spirit of giving up, do it from a place of being easy on yourself. If you need to you can do the work in a couple of days when you have tried the food first.
We can’t hide from difficult times, they will find us and with good reason. Challenges and changes in life, even painful ones help us to grow and learn about ourselves. Change was always something I struggled with because my beliefs about life were fixed. I was sure my life was supposed to be a certain way, I was sure it was supposed to be painful so, even when it felt better, I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop so that I could eat. When it did I got to confirm all my negative beliefs about myself and wallow in food. The only time I felt anything like kindness towards myself was in those periods of self- pity. For me, I had to stop putting so much of my emotion on the line; I had to be able to say, ‘This is how it is, and it isn’t going to bother me anymore’. Valuing my mental health became my new priority and it still is.
Extract from “Still Overweight? The 6-week course that changes your weight and relationship to food forever”