But my problem is EMOTIONAL EATING! (Isn't it...?)
What can we actually do with emotions?
A common instruction for ending “emotional eating” is “Step 1: Process your emotions.”
Sometimes people then say 2. “See what’s underneath the emotion. There will be a need you must take care of in order not to eat, which is a ‘fake need.’”
This is all wrong.
Let’s start with processing your emotions. Have you ever tried that? Did you discover what I have discovered, which is that you can no more “process” an emotion than lifting a cat off your lap “processes” that cat or shooing a bumblebee off your breakfast “processes” that bee? Nor would petting the cat process it. No more than letting the bee sting you processes the bee.
There is nothing you can do to process an emotion. We are not given that power.
In fact, there is nothing we need to do at all in regard to emotions.
Emotions come, stay, and go, all on their own. We can ignore them. We can be distracted by them. We can distract ourselves from them. We can pay attention to them. We can witness them. We can experience them in any way they come to us, for as long as they’re there - which according to science is about 90 seconds, by the way.
Yep! Ninety seconds, tops. In other words, the average emotional experience lasts much less time than it takes to walk to the donut shop or even the vending machine on the third floor.
Now THOSE are processes. And they are happening in a different space altogether from the emotional space.
So I am not saying there aren’t difficult emotions. There are emotions that are quite hard to be with, especially in contrast to being with a dozen donuts. Fury and grief come to mind.
But grief doesn’t lead inevitably to bingeing anymore than lemon bars lead invariably to ecstasy, no matter how good they are. So you don't need to process grief to avoid bingeing.
Oh, and the fact that you eat "too much" while grieving is not an indication that you are doing grief "wrong." <- good to know!
Here's how it is: NO EMOTION CAN BE PROCESSED TO GIVE YOU ANY RESULT OTHER THAN BEING ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THAT EMOTION. Which will happen anyway, in about a minute, The End.
I understand my claim flies in the face of common wisdom about eating. I go against virtually every therapist out there when I say you don’t need to do ANYTHING AT ALL with your emotions.
(Oh and that there's nothing to get to the bottom of, either. At least nothing you need to know in order to change your eating.)
But no need to pick up what I’m putting down without doing your own investigation. Look at your history, and observe your present. Are emotions and eating the same processes, or different? Is there something you can reliably do with your emotions that leads to a good outcome with your eating?Like, every time? Has that ever been true, even once?
I think not. But there is a strategy you can use for a good relationship with food, and it works all the time, and the world calls that “eating meals.” It works when you’re happy, it works when you’re sad, and it even works when you’re mad as hell and might decide not to take it anymore.
PS You might be wondering but What about depression? What about being in love? Those are definitely experiences that always change the way we eat, but they're not emotions. They're states. Lots to talk about here. Let's do that soon.