Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness

Principle 7 of Intuitive Eating is: Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness. This is a big one—and one of the most challenging as emotions and food often get entangled. It can be much more challenging to discern emotional eating from say a hunger or full cue as you are working with the principles of intuitive eating. Emotional eating can also become tangled up in specific thought pattern or a belief (or lie) about a diet as you are working to reject diet mentality.

Coping with your emotions with kindness allows an opportunity for food to be just food. It’s another simple but not so easy concept as you are working towards not using food as a coping skill to manage your internal emotional experiences that create discomfort and challenges. This process of coping with emotions with kindness is about understanding, listening to, receiving the messages from and responding to your emotions in a nonjudgmental and compassionate way.  This process really allows you to delve deeply into the root of emotional eating.

Many of us learned very early in our lives to believe and feel that our emotions are invalid, inconvenient, dramatic or unnecessary based on how they you were treated when expressing your emotions as a child. If you heard, “you’re too sensitive” “you’re so dramatic” “I don’t have time for this (temper tantrum, crying spell and so on…” “I’ll give you something to cry about” “crybaby” or “turn on the tears and see if you get your way” just to name a few, then you were taught a negative message about feeling and expressing your emotions. This becomes the root of emotional eating (or any other negative coping pattern).

These statements are unfortunately quite common, and all are quite damaging, especially when heard repeatedly. It begins to feel futile or unsafe to express your feelings and then eventually you either up the expressions in an attempt to be heard or stop and cut yourself off from you emotions all together.

The point here is definitely not to place blame, that just creates a sense of being a victim and creates a feeling of helplessness. The point here is to allow yourself to understand where you picked up the belief that your emotions were not valid, inconvenient etc… The point is to develop awareness as to where your relationship to your emotions became uncomfortable or all together denied. When you avoid or deny yourself the experience of feeling your feelings, you learn to stuff, numb, suppress and repress your emotions rather than express them in a healthy manner. You deserve to feel all of your feelings and all of your feelings are valid. Period. However, what you do with them and how you respond to your emotions can make a huge impact on the quality of your life.

If you feel completely at a loss when it comes to naming, understanding, identifying and exposing your emotions, that is ok! You can do an internet search for a feelings wheel and download and print it out to begin to become more familiar with emotions in general. This process can feel daunting at first because if you learned to repress your feelings from a young age you most likely have been working hard to keep them deeply suppressed, locked away deep inside never to be seen again. However, feelings don’t just go away, they are all still there and ready for you to open yourself to understanding, accepting and managing them in healthy way. I recommend you use the following process to begin the process of becoming more comfortable with your feelings/emotions simply as a concept. Then you can begin to explore your own in relation to your life more in depth. 

To start, go through the feelings wheel and list each feeling in a journal, one by one, starting at the center of the wheel. Write down after the feeling name a time you remember feeling that way or something that might create that feeling inside you. Then write down where you feel that feeling in your body (it’s ok if this isn’t clear right away, just try). Write down the opposite feeling state (e.g. angry—peaceful, happy—sad) for each feeling. After completing this exercise with all of the feelings on the wheel, use this journal daily as a place to release your feelings.

Our feelings/emotions show up as a message about how we are experiencing our lives. They are incredibly valuable information. It’s super important to use the concept of nonjudgment with your emotions/feelings. When you categorize your feelings as good or bad you are more likely to attempt to avoid the “bad” feelings. However, if you are nonjudgmental in your view of your emotions they can be more accessible to understand.

Your feelings may be experienced as comfortable or uncomfortable. It’s human nature to want to avoid feeling uncomfortable. As you become more familiar with feeling states, it will be helpful to begin to get more comfortable with the discomfort of your emotions. This is where your feelings journal will be helpful. You can use the following exercise to more clearly understand and then release your feelings. Try using the process each day to reflect on an emotional experience you had (or are having) and write down:

  • Name the emotion you are experiencing/experienced.

  • Where do/did you feel this in your body?

  • How uncomfortable is/was this feeling on a scale of 0-10? (0 being no distress present and 10 being as uncomfortable as possible)

  • What messages did you receive about this feeling growing up (or in your current life)?

  • What is the message this emotion has for you now, what does it want you to know?

  • What does this feeling/emotion need?

  • Can you give the emotion what it needs, why or why not?

  • Is there something you can do to cope with this feeling in a healthy way?

  • Can you let this feeling go/release it?

  • What is the opposite feeling state?

  • Is it possible to do something now to cultivate this opposite feeling state in this moment?

  • How uncomfortable is your original feeling now on a scale of 0-10?

After going through this daily as an exercise in self-awareness and self-reflection, begin to apply it to when you are having a specific food craving. Notice if you are able to release the feelings in a healthy way, trusting that this becomes more comfortable and possible with practice.

Emotional awareness is a process and learning to identify and cope with your feelings can have a tremendously positive impact on your life, your relationships, and your relationship with food. As you open yourself to the inner workings of your emotional world, you begin to free and liberate yourself from any fear and shame you experienced in terms of expressing your feelings in your past.

Know that this is just the beginning. If you feel there is too much to uncover, it’s difficult to get in touch with your feelings or they have been too suppressed for too long, know that you can seek support, you do not have to go through this hard work alone. Find a therapist, a coach or a trusted mentor and receive the support you need. This work is tremendously powerful and you deserve to feel, appreciate, understand and experience all of your feelings.

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