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The ONLY Solution To End Emotional Eating (Part 2)
Hi there. In continuation with our topic of emotional eating, today I’ll teach you how to truly feel an emotion instead of reacting to it by eating. But before I get into that, I want to unpack the belief - “I feel better by eating”
Lemme start by citing 3 real life examples -
One of my client Neha has an argument with her boss. She heads straight back to her cabin fuming with anger. In about 5 minutes, she orders a coffee & a samosa.
Dr Priya is an OBG doc who comes back home at 7ish every day physically exhausted along with an underlying anxiety that she assumes is a part of being an OBG doc. She overeats at her dinner which is usually fast food either ordered from outside or prepared quickly at home.
Saakshi is an undergrad medical student who is struggling with binge eating along with episodes of restriction in between.
Ok, and as you guys know, I too used to struggle with binge eating along with extreme dieting in between in med school. My emotional eating used to flare at full force just a month before University exams. I used to go super markets & stock my room with cookies, chips, milk & juices. I was so aware that I was an emotional eater but I felt powerless in the face of overwhelming emotions such as anxiety, upset, anger, rejection.
I’ll be vulnerable here & share one particular instance with you that makes me smile with compassion now…compassion towards the newly wed Anu…On my honeymoon in Las Vegas, with the love of my life, I had a disagreement with Gaurav…which escalated into a fight and we weren’t talking to each to other that night…it was around 11pm at night, I was still up…I grabbed the trail mix that we had got a day before which was meant to be taken along with us to India…but I opened that packet & started shovelling that down in the bathroom while crying…ha ha …i was feeling so upset…so mad…because of that fight…I just didn’t know what to do other than to eat…
So all these are typical examples of emotional eating…
You remember the basic definition of emotional eating? Eating in response to an emotion…and let me add…in an attempt to change your experience…in an attempt to feel better than what you are actually feeling…
I also remember many years back I had a client who said , Anu, Yes its an attempt to feel better & I do feel better…even if its for 5 minutes…so whats the problem!
If you remember the last podcast episode, the problem is that we have a higher brain…a consciousness that keeps nudging us that when you feel better at the expense of your own well being, that is actually not known as feeling better…that is known as self sabotage…that is known as hurting your self.
And when we actually start comprehending things for what they truly are, that is powerful…
So my question to you, are you actually feeling better…
You are attempting to knock yourself out from experiencing the truth of the moment…
It’s an attempt to escape the current reality…this begs the question as to is that even possible…are you able to escape the reality or do you pretend to escape it…just like that frog who pretends that the world doesn’t exist beyond his well…once the eating & the bio chemical effects of eating wanes out, the reality is back in your face staring at you…you have the same stuff to deal with…the career, the money, the husband, the kids, the job…
Food doesn’t actually change your experience…it simply gives the illusion that it does. And for how long will you keep chasing the fantasy…it makes you “tolerate” the current reality just for a few moments…you still are left with the same old demons to face!
And the worst part is the added net negative consequences of emotional eating…the added shame of compulsive behaviour, the weight gain, bloating, body hatred…ya
So today, I really really want you to think does emotional eating really make you feel better?
See until you update the reward value of an experience for what it really is, you will not be able to change that behaviour. Somewhere your brain developed this pattern, this neural pathway of of emotion-eat-feel better & now it needs to be updated. You have to marinate in the awareness of what it truly is emotion-eat-repent or emotion-eat-weight suffering…right… or better yet emotion-eat-more suffering.
And this more suffering that results from reactive, non beneficial actions in Buddhism are known as the second arrow…Imagine you are hit by an arrow in your chest and you are bleeding. But instead of taking out the arrow & taking care of the wound, you get up and run after the one who you think has hit you with the arrow…and all this while you are still bleeding…so the first arrow is what you get hit by…and the second arrow is you taking an action that makes the wound bleed even more…Buddha termed it as ignorance
How this translates into emotional eating…you are feeling lets say upset, anxious, anger, sadness, disappointment…an uncomfortable emotion…and instead of taking care of that, you increase your suffering, your discomfort by the second arrow of eating…so eating doesn’t take care of the negative uncomfortable emotion, it simply adds on to your suffering…
This is the hard uncomfortable truth of emotional eating. Its a misguided attempt to feel better…to take care of yourself which in reality hurts you more than help you.
So moving on, now I want you to pay attention to what really is an EMOTION. Have you ever thought about this? As I said in the last episode there is no emotional literacy 101 class that is taught to us. Most humans are completely unaware as to what an emotion even is & how they are generated…
Well, lemme spell this out for you. An emotion is a vibration in your body which is produced by your brain. Its very easy to get confused between biological sensations like hunger, cold, warmth and emotions because both biological sensations as well as emotions play out in the body… so hunger is produced by the body & it travels to the brain while an emotion is produced by the brain & it is felt in the body.
Now what is mind blowing ….
Literally mind bending is that all our lives we are taught that emotions are generated in the body in response to our life circumstances…But actually there is a missing piece…the most critical piece…the piece that is a freaking master key to the Universe…and that is that emotions are caused by your thoughts and not at all by your life circumstances. You remember the Model…first episode…
Emotions, positive or negative are not caused by how your life is shaping up & whats showing up in your life but by what you are making that mean in your brain. Your thought about whats happening causes a bio chemical reaction in your mamalian-reptilian complex of primitive brain which is then felt in the body as an emotion…and this emotion drives you to take action or not take one.
And since today we are talking about emotions, lemme highlight that we humans are not actually taught how to feel an emotion right from childhood. We are actually taught how to react, distract or resist an emotion especially if its negative. Like, when the child cries, we say take this candy & stop crying! Ya…or we say, don’t hurt his feelings, behave yourself.
Going back to the brain…since our primitive brain is always scanning for danger in the environment, it is actually programmed to look for what’s wrong so that you can run or fight back back and hence survive.
So obviously we perceive negative emotions as something gone wrong & on top of that, that threat response compromises our executive, decision making part of the brain during those moments.
So naturally we are driven to get rid of the emotion asap.
This impulsive drive to get of the negative emotion in todays day and age is back firing in enormous ways.
Now , listen…
What if nothing has gone wrong when you feel a negative emotion. As long as you are believing that it’s not ok to feel negatively, you will continue to run from this integral & critical part of being alive.
Negative emotions…all emotions in fact serve a very important purpose. If you are not creating space for all emotions, your continuous drive to judge the negative emotions and get rid of them will keep multiplying your suffering in life.
Here’s the thing…all emotions are a part of being alive. Yes, the negative emotions may feel uncomfortable but trying to get rid of them is itself suffering. You don’t want to be feeling happy and joyful when your loved one is no more. There is a purpose of feeling negative emotions.
This leads me to explain to you, how to feel an emotion. As I said, what we are doing is constantly resisting, reacting or distracting ourselves from our emotions. And we do this with food when we are eating emotionally. We actually can do this with anything…for some people its food, for other its alcohol, cigarette, drugs, ovenetflixing, shopping , sex, porn, gambling…anything that you use to escape feeling the emotion.
So here s the thing an emotion is a vibration in your body..when you use something external, it dulls the vibration for some moments & that is why the illusion of feeling better…right
The way you feel an emotion instead of resisting or reacting to it is that you fully allow the emotion to flow through your body. You allow it to be there as long as it wants to. Well, neuroscience actually has proven that emotion stays for a very short while, like 90 seconds. Its just when we resist it & keep ruminating in the thoughts, that keeps it alive. Otherwise, emotions are simply like clouds. They come & they pass and they are completely harmless.
You will be able to allow feeling an emotion only when you truly open yourself up to feeling all the emotions that life has to offer. So take an inventory…which emotion are you unwilling to feel…is it grief…is it humiliation…is it disrespect…think about it…
Now you may ask, Anu, why do you do want me to feel humiliation …why do you want me to feel shame…
The reason is the only way to feel an emotion is your willingness to feel all emotions. You can’t be open to one & closed to another…you have to cultivate the awareness to allow them all.
See your brain will freak out in the beginning…and this freakout is what we interpret as something gone wrong and then we don’t want to feel it…and so grab the food…
What if you stay with the freakout…you allow the discomfort of the emotion…do this for a few minutes first and then more…
Get present to what sensations that anger is producing in your body…how does that feel in your body…describe it….is it tingling…does your throat feel dry…for me anxiety feels like a vacuum pit in my stomach…and there is some tension in my chest…truly get present to how does the emotion feel in your body…breath into the emotion…
Now resisting an emotion feels very different. You may decide not to eat and resist the emotion. This is what happens when we go on a diet. We feel restricted or deprived or a negative emotion and we want to eat but we resist that emotion, that desire…ya. So here’s an example of resistance vs feeling an emotion that will clarify this. When you resist an emotion, it feels like using will power. It feels like fighting the emotion…it feels like you are pushing pushing pushing against a door trying to stop a storm. Vs feeling an emotion - that is you open the door & let the storm pass through you.
When you start feeling the emotion instead of reacting to it, that’s when you get authority over it….that’s when you train your primitive brain that you are safe…you are not going to die…because when we resist the negative emotion & not give in, it almost feels like death…the brain’s like, no we can’t survive this, let’s eat.
So when you start feeling an emotion thats when you activate your higher brain to be truly present to the choice that you have before you take an action. Until then, there is no choice. It feels compulsive…as if the only choice you have is to shout back or eat or cry and eat…right…instead of getting swept under the influence of emotion, you claim your power to act or not act…instead of suppressing or leashing out the emotional energy, you become a safe container for the emotion…in your awareness, the emotion can come & rest in the space and leave when it wants to..
So today, I taught you how to feel an emotion instead of reacting to it. Start accumulating the feeling moments of truly being present to an emotion. You are literally interrupting the neural pathway of emotion-eat-more suffering and creating new neural pathway of emotion-feel-not eat-weight freedom. This will take time, practice & your compassionate presence. Truly feeling the emotions and taking a wise action is a priceless skill worth your attention & energy.
Once you get good at feeling the feelings, thats when you get access to the root cause of the emotion that is your thoughts…Thats when you cultivate the awareness that the thoughts that generate your negative emotions are optional…thats when you become present to the fact that you really don’t have to change your life circumstances to feel better, you can change your thoughts about them. But this process cannot, will not happen until you stop escaping your emotions.
That is it my friends. Hey it would be great if you could leave me a review on iTunes. That would help in my mission & spread this message to more amazing women like you. I will talk to you soon.