I often ask those who I work with: “If it’s not about food, what is it about?”
Unless you are eating to fuel your body when you are hungry, you may be using food as a way to cope with your emotions. In other words, it isn’t about food, it is about something else.
If it’s not about food, what is it about? Asking yourself this question will help you identify what you are feeling, what you are thinking, and what is really going on.
Sometimes, people I work with resist this. “What if it is about food?” or “Sometimes it is about food (or hating my body).” If it was really only about food, you would think about it only when you are hungry or when you are eating. However, if you are reading this, you probably think about food, hating your body, binging, purging etc., many times during your day. Therefore, I would say that it is really about emotions other than hunger that is driving your eating behaviors.
Below are some questions to ask yourself before you engage in any of your binge/purge eating behaviors.
Ask yourself the questions and then go inside your body to contemplate the answer. A good way to do this is to take a deep breath and follow your breath into your body. You can also write down what comes up when you ask yourself these questions. This will help you explore what you are really feeling. Doing so may even lead you to lose the desire to do the eating behavior. Try it.
1. What eating behavior(s) are you thinking about doing?
2. What is happening right now?
3. What emotions are you experiencing? (Try not to label them as good or bad or wonder ‘why’ you are experiencing this emotion. Just notice it)
4. What are you hoping will happen if you engage in the eating behavior?
Below are some questions to ask yourself after you engage in an eating behavior. Go into your body or write down what comes to mind when you ask these questions. This will help you learn more about what is driving your behavior.
1. What type of eating behavior(s) did you engage in?
2. What was happening just before you engaged in the eating behavior?
3. What emotions were you experiencing immediately prior to the eating behavior and immediately after?
4. What did it feel like, physically and emotionally, to engage in this type of behavior?
5. What were you hoping would happen by engaging in your eating behavior(s)?
Learning about what you are trying to avoid, what you are trying to communicate, or trying to deal with by using food, is often the first step toward changes in your eating behaviors. When you face your emotions, you no longer need food to help you cope.
Of course, learning to face your emotions may be a challenge. We often aren’t taught to do this by our parents or even in our society (I call this the “eat this cookie and you’ll feel better” syndrome.) Therefore, sometimes you may need a little extra help in discovering and expressing your emotions in a healthy way. You can do this with a friend, family or partner who is willing to support you in this way. Or, you can do this with a therapist who is trained to help you access your feelings.
In short, just changing your behaviors around food a little and/or exploring what is driving these behaviors with the questions above can help bring up the feelings. If you notice yourself pushing them back down, some extra help might be needed. However, if you let the feelings come up: sit with them, share them with another, notice how that feels and appreciate yourself for doing it.