Healing from a disordered relationship with food comes in two parts, the behavioral and the emotional. Working on your behaviors around food is important for learning to have a healthy relationship with food. Your behaviors are also the way your emotions manifest themselves. In other words, you are obsessing about food and your to avoid your feelings.
In our culture, we tend to be very good at being in the mind. We think, we analyze, we debate and we obsess. Our minds are powerful and easily take control. Plus, our society encourages us to be in our mind. People who think a lot are great employees, friends, partners, CEOs of companies, accountants, coaches, organizers, etc.
However, when you are only in your head, you are not in your body. And, your body misses you.
Emotions are not so welcomed in our society. Emotions get in the way of work, of organization, of cleanliness, even of relationships sometimes. From childhood, we are taught not to feel. “Have a cookie, you’ll feel better” is one of my favorite examples. “There are other fish in the sea” is a perfectly okay thing to say to a friend who is suffering with a breakup. “Let’s go get drunk” is also acceptable and even expected as a way to deal with difficult times.
Your relationship with food is based in hiding from your emotions. It is a distraction. If you focus most of your energy on what you ate, how much you exercised, how many calories you consumed, when your next meal is, and/or how fat you are or could be, there isn’t much left over for how you feel.
Therefore, the key to living a life of recovery is to feel. The secret is to get into your body, feel your emotions, and listen to what is there. Your body is a wealth of untapped information! If you learn to listen to it, you will learn what and how much your body wants to eat, how you feel, how to deal with your feelings, and what to do in all aspects of your life.
Life is filled with emotional moments. Your life is all about emotions. You are happy, sad, hurt, angry, in love, afraid. These are all natural. We were born with them and they will never go away. No matter what you do, you cannot make your feelings go away. Yet, there is little place for them. We think “mind over matter.” If I can just change the way I think, I’ll change the way I feel. Translation, you hope, is “I’ll feel good.”
It doesn’t work that way.
When something terrible happens, you aren’t supposed to feel good. Spending time with someone who hurts you over and over again isn’t supposed to feel good. If it did, how would you know that something needed to change?
It is okay to feel bad sometimes. Unless you feel negative feelings, you can’t fully feel the positive ones. It isn’t possible to stuff down all the negative feelings and just leave the positive. They all get stuffed down. Feeling numb is a symptom of this. Obsessions and addictions are a symptom of this. Your disordered eating is a symptom of this. Learning to feel the negative feelings will bring up more joy, more happiness and a more authentic you.
What does all of this mean for recovering from your eating disorder?
You can make all the behavioral changes in the world, but if you don’t deal with the emotions, your eating disorder behaviors will come back. Every time. It is your emotions that brought about your disordered eating.
One way to approach recovery, therefore, is to work with the disordered eating behaviors to help you get to your emotions. Changing your behaviors is the gateway directly to your feelings. Feeling your feelings is the gateway to living an authentic life without disordered eating. It is discovering who you are, what you like, how you feel, what you want, and living free from an obsession with food. This is true joy and happiness. When you can feel the bad feelings, the good feelings will abound. After all, you are an emotional being. There is nothing wrong with this or with you.
Your emotions want to come out. You can’t hide them or run from them. They will chase you down. They are constantly behind you yelling “I’m here, I’m here.” When you run from them, they run faster. When you ignore them, they get louder. When you push them down further, they come up. They just want your attention. Like a child talking nonstop to his mother, pulling on her pant leg, begging her to pay attention, he will not go away until she does. This is the same as your emotions. When you pay attention, they feel relief. When you befriend them, they will help you and you won’t need your eating disorder anymore.