Article by Michelle Drake, mental health therapist
Do you ever wonder if you have ever really felt your emotions for the duration they needed to truly be felt? Do you find yourself stuffing bad feelings down so you can keep a smile on your face and pretend to move on just fine through life? If so, you are among the millions of women and men in this world dealing with what I simply see as emotional avoidance.
I also share in the universal experience of not allowing emotions to sit with me for too long, as it seems so much more natural to promptly apologize for those “silly” feelings I have. I have spent many years convincing myself that I don’t deserve to feel hurt or upset, therefore using food as my coping mechanism to keep those feelings unfelt.
If you take notice of your eating, you will often find that what you eat tends to evolve in direct proportion to the level of denial you have towards your real feelings. For example, when I have felt hurt, misunderstood, or maybe not being heard by someone, my thinking will also go directly towards the entire days menu ahead. Sometimes, this may even go further into thinking about what I will be eating for the rest of the weekend.
Have you also ever caught yourself planning each meal while you are already in the midst of eating the first meal of your day or mindlessly eating while thinking about what you will eat next? If you have, it’s likely that you are among the many, including myself, who have or do use food as a coping mechanism to avoid pain. It can be easy to laugh at the idea that we are “eating away our emotions” as is so often phrased in many self-help books and TV programs, trying to find every reason why it’s NOT true that we don’t face our feelings. But really, if you do take an honest look at your cycles of eating, when it’s up or down, it’s almost always functioning at the level of denial you are in. When it’s low, you tend to have other priorities and interests in life besides food consumption. When denial is high, there is no amount of comfort food, cocktails, or restaurant happy hours that can get you through a long day of self-avoidance.
It can be mortifying to imagine yourself sitting in a pool of your own emotional states from one moment to the next without wanting to find your best friend, food. It is absolutely scary, but not because of food, but because of what we might find underneath the surface. It is possible that sitting in your feelings long enough with honesty and willingness, you may discover some hard truths about your life that you have denied facing. Maybe you find out that you really don’t love your partner as much as you convince yourself you once did, maybe you realize you are doing work that makes you feel miserable or underpaid. You may even find that you don’t necessarily even want to be skinny, but rather just loved for being you.
I am someone who relates to this message whole-heartedly and admits this is a battle I have waged war on, sometimes winning, sometimes failing. We are all human after all, even therapists. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t truly connect with the raw essence of human behavior and how impactful life can be. I encourage you all to join me to sit for a day, any old day, and take a step back and observe yourself with some space. Take each moment as they come and just watch yourself as you go through your day and take an honest account of what happens. If you can do this just for one day, you have already moved through some significant fears and challenges. Be the observer of your actions and not the critic. Make your intention be known that you are just allowing life to be as it is, whatever you feel that day. If you feel sad or hopeless, then see what happens if you absorb that feeling without doing anything at all. See what happens. If you can’t stop yourself from running to the fridge to eat the feeling away, then just make note of these observations once you’ve recovered and look at it for what it is and nothing more.
Taking the risk of feeling emotions is one of the hardest things in life to do. Find people that support you and embrace you. There is nothing more freeing than being an open book, allowing others to hold your feelings in their own hands for a while. Food will no longer be your enemy when you are willing to take on the realities of your life for good or bad. It is so much bigger than food, so much bigger than the scale or a number on the tag. It’s about facing real change in the aspects of life that you truly value, no matter how scary or upsetting it might be to come to terms with what is really going on in your life. So often, we use weight as the leading cause for our unhappiness and dissatisfaction, when it is almost always unrelated to food, dieting, or weight completely.
Affirmation: I hope to be an agent of change by allowing myself to be there for my emotions to take life and live where they need to live.