The Takeaway: For many of us, significant emotional healing has to happen before, or in tandem with, physical healing. Resisting emotions creates resistance in other aspects of a healthy life.
I. Get uncomfortable and explore your emotions
II. Answer emotional cravings with self-love
III. Get a Buddy!
The Back Story:
I didn’t know how to deal with my emotions growing up. I covered them up with shame, because I didn’t feel that I had a right to feel sadness, fear, loneliness, and other normal emotions of the human condition. Because I felt so fortunate with my place in the world, compared to many other people on the planet, I thought I didn’t have a right to be unhappy. So instead, I covered up perfectly normal emotions like fear, anger, disappointment, and then I fell into a shame spiral and ended up severely depressed. All this was accompanied by stress eating, binging, and a whole host of other unhealthy, self-destructive habits like negative self-talk and terrible dieting patterns.
Now I know that I don’t have much of a right to complain about certain things, but every human being on the planet is equal in their right to feel. Everyone is worthy of love and affection and kindness, especially from themselves.
I’m at the point now where I don’t suffer much from physical cravings – the desire for sugar, the need to eat a sweet potato, etc. My body knows what it needs and I’m pretty good at listening. But it is only in the past few months that I have really come to understand my emotional cravings – what triggers me to want to eat something, or keep eating, when my body isn’t asking for it. I’m always trying to feed the wolf that wants energy, not the wolf that is crying out for food because of emotions.
For me, it takes more than a coping mechanism of calling a friend or taking a walk or any of the other distraction methods they offer in magazine articles. Those certainly help, but it was hard to me to tell friends and family how I was feeling when I wasn’t being honest with myself.
First, you have to admit the emotions are there, and more importantly, not judge yourself for having them.
That is a tough one for me sometimes. I think I should be more capable so I’m not stressed out. I think I’m too put together to get so disappointed. I used to think being homesick was weakness. When you cover up all that stuff, it turns out that you’re much easier to break from the inside-out.
Secondly, when you have emotional cravings, answer them with self-love, not food.
It used to be that any time I ate after an emotional craving, I would end up feeling worse about myself afterwards and punish myself for it. This negative self-talk meant the cycle just continued. Hard as it may be, the best way to recover and prevent emotional cravings is by self-love. You are most like driven to eat because you need some sort of emotional nourishment in your life, and you can find that through self-love.
You are most like driven to eat because you need some sort of emotional nourishment in your life, and you can find that through self-love.
I’ve tagged posts dealing with self-love, and the resident expert is Stephani Ruper of Paleo for Women. I’ve got a binder full of her Friday Self-Love Hacks to read when things get really rocky. Making a nourishment menu, as I mentioned in Step 3, is also really helpful!
Once you become aware of your emotional landscape, it is easier to share with others.
Find a support buddy – someone you can turn to specifically when you have emotional cravings. I have a few people that I trust with this topic that is sometimes difficult for me to open up about. They know my challenges and they help me sort out my emotions when things seem like they’re all in pieces and I’m too scattered to put myself back together again. There are a number of online forums that may be helpful if you can’t find the right person in your life right now. I usually do some meditating first to work out what is bothering me, and then I can present the problem to my family or friends and get help coming up with an answer or a plan of action.
In my case, though, I have to take responsibility and explore my emotions first. It isn’t easy, or something I look forward too, but I always feel better after each emotional adventure. I find myself more resilient, more open, more balanced, and healthier each time I turn and face something I’m running away from. It isn’t something you want to do on your own, but you have to take ownership of yourself in order to heal. And it doesn’t have to happen all at once. Little by little, puzzle piece by puzzle piece, I’m figuring out what works best for me. I know you have the courage and strength to do that as well.
The most potent resources I’ve found for emotional cravings:
Paleo for Women
The Psychology of Eating
Books, especially Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown
Meditation Oasis podcast