Mindless stress or emotional eating.
You’ve been there – eating when you don’t really want to, but the stress needs to go somewhere and that when stress or emotional eating starts.
It’s a distraction that helps to calm your stress with relief even if it’s only for a few minutes.
You’re only trying to get away from the negativity. Eating something, especially if it’s a high carbohydrate snack it works!
Your brain is bathed in calming, feel-good neurotransmitters that changes your brain chemistry. Your brain is taking care of the immediate situation, “I need to calm the tension now.”
This is the heart of mindless stress eating.
You start feeling better when you have a pleasurable experience.
But shame and guilt hits you like a ton of bricks and now you’re right back to feeling uncomfortable and the soothing you experienced starts to evaporate.
What happens next? A lot of clients say it’s something like this:
You already ate the food, so you –
- restrict your food intake
- promise that next time you will resist
- focus on more willpower
- you go back down the path of mindlessness stress or emotional eating
- justify your discomfort by telling yourself you might as well enjoy it while you can
- feel hopeless that you’ll ever be in control of food
There are a lot of reasons stress or emotional eating cycle repeats over and over.
The reason with the biggest impact is that you feel near immediate relief in the moment.
There’s a whole lot of brain chemical reasons why people feel a sense of control and relief after eating. Regardless of how long the relief lasts, using stress or emotional eating brings relief from uncomfortable feelings.
The desire to create and maintain a calm state is a powerful drive. When emotional reactivity is high, stress or emotional eating is one of the quickest legal ways to get calm.
Over the past few decades, the intersection of psychology and neuroscience have shown us that our emotions, how we as feel, think, manage, and understand our experiences, is in large part based in learning how to cope and manage different states of being.
What’s important about this is that we have the opportunity to learn new skills at point in our lives.
The bottom line is that you can learn how to become a Conscious Eater even after years, decades even – of stress or emotional eating or dieting.
Mind, body and heart peace.
When emotions are vague, people tend to generalize them and think in broad brush strokes: “I feel bad or depressed, or sad, or mad, etc.”
This is a good start and you can develop a more refined, specific emotional vocabulary to help you even more.
It’s in our human nature seek feeling good as much as possible, so when uncomfortable feelings surface you probably want to get rid of them as quickly as possible.
Spending time pondering the subtleties of sadness isn’t something most people tend to do without some sort of highly motivating factor to do it.
Emotional self-awareness requires you to be specific.
Becoming a Conscious Eater helps you increase your emotional vocabulary, so that you are more aware of what you feel. When this happens you more options for calming and soothing yourself, without needing food to do the job for you.
While I can’t promise that this is an easy task, what I can tell you is that just like learning anything new, with intentional practice you’ll become more skillful.
Vague feelings lead to no specific action plan and lead to stress or emotional eating.
So, why all this talk about the specifics of feelings? Getting specific about the feeling provides you with a broader range of options so you can feel better sooner.
Here’s an example:
Say you’re at work and there’s a project you’re leading, the deadline is near and it’s not going well. You’ve racked your brain to come up with solutions, but it’s just not happening. So, you decide to summon up courage and talk with your boss about it. You want to receive some guidance on how to move forward.
Bad news: your boss is tense and busy with an emergency. Furthermore, she tells you that she expects you to handle it on your own and is confident that if you just spent a little more time on it, you’ll figure out what you need to do. She wraps up by telling you she has a conference call in 2 minutes and, with a tone clearly sending the message, ‘don’t come back with this problem – just give me your best work in the morning.’
Has this ever happened to you?
I imagine we all have experienced some version of this at least once in life!
Notice the feelings you might have felt as you read the example.
Frustration at the inability to get the project done without a fresh perspective.
Which can lead to anxiety about not knowing and needing to ask for help.
Which can lead to feeling vulnerable that your boss will judge your work performance as poor and that you’re not a valuable employee.
Your boss’s response can lead to anger.
You asked for help, she’s your boss, it’s part of her job and she’s not doing it!
The anger, if left unexplored, can get stuck. You could become focused on your boss’s incompetence, her dislike of you, and her plan to set you up for failure, etc.
The mind can go to very dark places when we get stuck in fear!
Even if this all this negativity happens to be true—there are difficult bosses out there—you can still remain curious about the variety of feelings you experience and then decide if the feelings become problematic for you.
The emotionally curious part of you, the part who desires to be more conscious and intentional in life, may have a conversation with yourself like this:
I made myself vulnerable and asked for help when I needed it. Now I feel dismissed that my work isn’t important, maybe even taken to old familiar feeling – I am not important.
I’m disappointed because I really like my boss and look up to her as a role model and now, my heart is broken a little.
Maybe she’s not the superwoman I wanted her to be.
I feel even less able to do my best work, maybe I’m not as invested and excited as I once was. Maybe I’ll just go to lunch early, have my favorite food to console myself.
But wait, no, maybe the problem she’s dealing with really is more urgent at this moment than the project due tomorrow. After all it is an emergency! I know that she doesn’t have time until the problem is solved.
She put her faith in me and tried to be encouraging but didn’t have the time or capacity in the moment.
Hmm, taking into account all of the feelings I’ve just processed, maybe what I can do is give her what I have, make notes on what needs to be refined and we can talk after the problem is resolved and she catches her breath.
Maybe I can take a deep breath too, take a walk outside and get some fresh air. It’s a nice day and that will help.
I need to practice patience. Have a nourishing lunch, then get a game plan together, so that I’m prepared as much as I can be at this point in my work.
When you get more specific about your feelings you have more options.
With time and practice you can get to the heart of the matter more quickly.
There is a simplicity in directly addressing the nuance of feeling which helps guide you in how to care for the feeling.
What if part of the problem with emotional eating isn’t really the food, but rather not being clear about the feeling or what to do with it?
What if you separate out the food from the feeling in a way that gives you more information about the feelings and possibilities for taking care of yourself, without focusing on food?
The assumption we’re working with is – you need to fuel your body and fullness-satiety is a need. Nobody can work very well with their feelings if your body needs fuel. Get something to eat and check in with yourself. Nourish your body at the beginning signs of hunger.
The two systems – feeling and nourishment – are interrelated; we can’t truly separate them altogether, but we can separate them enough to find some clarity. They require different questions and most often different answers.
Let food be food and emotions be emotions.
How to identify the nuance of feelings and prevent stress or emotional eating.
Feelings identification process.
There are three basic emotions that most people start from: anxiety, anger, and sadness.
If you think about the intensity of the emotion, like a little anticipatory anxiety when you’re at week two of a new job. Just a little, enough to keep you on your toes, versus intense anxiety when you’re about to give a pitch to a venture capital team for several million dollars. Intensity of emotion about an unknown situation like your first day on the job can be consuming.
If you lump these experiences into one, as if they are the same, you short-change the relationship you have with yourself.
Lots of people do this every day.
In the attempt to get past difficult emotions, you may dismiss them as if they are nothing and in return you miss the possibility to care for yourself in a truly meaningful way.
How to apply “feelings identification” to decrease stress or emotional eating.
Depending on your experience with a particular emotion and the intensity you experience of it you’ll need options. A variety of coping skills to work your way through the emotional experience helps a lot. You can get to the other side of your emotions faster and that’s what builds emotional awareness.
Think of this like any new skill you learn. Riding a bike at first is shaky and usually involves losing your balance and falling off and trying again. With each round of trial and error you learn more. Your mind and body become experienced in bike riding and you know more about how to stay balanced.
They are necessary steps, which help you learn what not to do, so you learn what works – faster.
If you try a coping skill that doesn’t fit the emotion, meaning, it doesn’t help decrease the intensity it’s okay. Try the next idea – it may be the one that helps! To make it easier and hopefully faster, I have a process for you to try.
The SILK process, can be very helpful to help you get the clarity you need.
SILK – Stop
Be still and give yourself a few minutes to feel.
No worries if it’s difficult. This is time limited and it will pass in a few minutes.
You need to allow yourself a couple of minutes to find what you’re working with.
List your feelings and consider the possibilities. Look up some of the synonyms and add them to your list.
You may find that the dictionary definition or browse the thesaurus it provides clarity that is how you feel.
Think of it as explorating, so that you get a sense of what you are responding to. And that’s which is clue to what you need for your well-being.
SILK – Listen
In your heart you know where and which feeling is resonating when you look at the feeling list.
Notice what hits you with, “yeah, that’s it.” The next step is to ask yourself “what can I do to help me to feel taken care of?”
What will help you to move through the difficult part and get to the other side where growth resides?
SILK – Kindness
Work from a growth mindset perspective.
This is the place where the Golden Rule of Self-care applies to you.
Treat yourself well. It may take time to figure out what you need.
You will make mistakes along the way and that’s okay; you are learning.
You are getting to know yourself in a different way that leads to good things.
Getting unstuck is the best reward.
I hope that you find that developing your emotional vocabulary leads you down the path to Conscious Eating!
What happens when you solve stress or emotional eating is that burnout, overwhelm and feeling stressed also decrease dramatically. You’re able to use your newly developed self-awareness to take care of your needs. You’ll have the time and energy to pursue what you need and live a personally fulfilling life you love. And after all – it’s that what it’s all about?