Emotional eating is a struggle for so many of us. It can dampen and diminish life in so many ways. Emotional eating causes you to not experience the full range of your emotions. Emotional eating often creates feelings of frustration and defeat related to unwanted weight gain. Overall, emotional eating causes a sense of disconnection from both your mind and your body. For so many that struggle with emotional eating, healing your relationship with your body can be the biggest challenge to overcome.
Body image issues run deep. A disturbing number of girls put themselves on a diet as early as the third grade. Many teenagers say that they want to lose weight to look more like images they see in fashion magazines or on social media. Most men and women say they feel insecure when they see celebrity images and other ads. This is not cool. Not only does the struggle with body image, insecurity and not feeling good enough begin quite young, many say that these stereotypes and feelings are often perpetuated within their peer groups and families.
Emotional eating can be driven by a negative body image and feeling less than, not good enough, or inadequate. These feelings create further uncomfortable internal experiences which will inevitably trigger more emotional eating. The first place to begin is to develop emotional awareness, which if you are unfamiliar with how to do this you can read more on several of my past blogs, one of them you can find here. When you are actively working towards emotional awareness and feeling more present and connected to your emotions and your life, it will be helpful to address the emotions that surface related to how you feel about your body.
How often do you complain about your body out loud? How often do you complain to yourself about or wish your body was different? How often do you judge other people’s bodies, either to yourself or to others? This is where you can begin to create the change you desire related to body image. First of all, if you are judging other’s bodies, practice thinking kinder or more neutral thoughts rather the negative biased thoughts. If you are talking about other people’s bodies, practice pointing out what you might compliment versus judge. When you treat others with kindness and respect and end the judgement thoughts and statements you can begin to heal yourself.
Working to heal your relationship with your perception of your own body may be more of a challenge than changing your perception of others. It starts with healing your relationship with food and feeling as though you are not intentionally harming your body or sabotaging your body with negative thoughts, beliefs and actions.
Even though you desire to heal the root cause of your struggles with emotional eating and body image issues, weight loss may be a goal for you. This can bring up additional uncomfortable emotions such as fear. You may be fearful of the attention that weight loss attracts. You may fear the line of questioning around your weight loss such as, “how did you lose so much weight?” or “what diet did you use?” and so on. You may also fear only being noticed for weight loss. You may fear being judged or even being more attractive to others and what that might mean. You may fear being considered “good” if you lose weight and “bad” if you gain weight. This is super complicated stuff. So to think a diet, a workout plan or even a few compliments will heal these deep-rooted thoughts, beliefs, feelings and actions, think again. It starts with healing yourself. Food and even weight have only become metaphors for the challenges, fears and insecurities you experience.
Many of those I work with initially say that they want to lose weight. But really, as we dig deeper, they want to feel more confident about their body. They want to make choices that create a sense of control and empowerment within their lives. This is where the real work begins. You see, there is no diet that will offer anything more than a temporary feeling of accomplishment. There is no workout plan that will help you address and explore your emotions. There is no compliment that will change your mind about yourself or your body if you don’t believe it in your heart.
When you set out to begin healing your relationship with food, your body and yourself, here are some important elements to consider. I recommend getting out a journal and spend time reflecting and writing down your answers to the following questions.
-What do you like about yourself?
-How do you want to feel?
-How has your past impacted your body image and your choices? (You can read more about your food story here.)
-How have comments from others impacted how you feel about yourself?
-How have certain food choices from this past week caused you to feel about yourself now, why?
-When in your life did you feel your best about yourself and/or your body, why?
When you take time to deeply reflect on yourself, your body, your thoughts, beliefs, actions and choices you can begin to know yourself more deeply. The more deeply you know and understand yourself, the more you can practice self-acceptance. When you reflect on your answers to the questions above, what stands out to you?
Now begin to determine your strengths. Take time to acknowledge what you like about yourself. Become very clear about how you want to feel—both about yourself and in general. Begin to work with these elements first. How can you use your strengths to empower yourself to take ownership over your choices. How can you use the positive attributes you can recognize about yourself right now to heal your life? Now move into awareness of your emotions (if you’d like to learn more about this process you can read more here). Practice noticing, accepting and understanding them. Move into a space of applying this same practice with food. Ask yourself with each food choice you make if that choice supports feeling a sense of self-respect and self-love.
As you grow in your ability to make healthy, intuitive and mindful choices relating to food, the next phase of healing is to move your focus into your body. While this may feel awkward in the beginning, integrate a time to practice being grateful for individual elements of your body. Practice looking at a specific body part, such as your feet, and express gratitude to them for walking you where you need to go. Focus on your heart and thank it for never missing a beat. Gaze into your eyes in the mirror and express gratitude to them for allowing you see all of the beauty of nature and those you care about. These practices of appreciation for all that your body can do will allow an internal shift of how you experience and care for your body.
When you offer your body gratitude, you are offering yourself a place to feel more accepting, loving and kind towards yourself. Allot time daily to engage in the practice of healing your relationship with your body and with yourself. I recommend keeping a journal through this process as you will begin to experience a powerful shift as you practice over time.
Another step to heal your relationship with yourself is to compliment yourself. Acknowledge when you working hard, and tell yourself that you appreciate this hard work. Acknowledge when you practice elements that are challenging and thank yourself for remaining dedicated even when it is hard. Acknowledge when you make a specific choice that you feel proud of allow yourself to really feel this pride within. Practice stating to yourself what you do like about yourself, what you are good at, what physical attributes you appreciate about yourself. Validate your feelings to yourself and be grateful to yourself for choosing the difficult path of healing as opposed to remaining stuck in a space of struggle and fear.
You see, you are not your body, but you do live in your body. You have to determine what kind of home for yourself that your body will be. Will it be one that you fight with, detest, complain about and harm? Or will it be one that you respect, treat with kindness, love, and deeply care for? As you treat yourself with care and make choices that support how you want to feel, you create an opportunity to transfer that care to your physical body. Conversely, when you are kind to your body, you are creating a deeper kindness for who you are at the core of your being.
As you heal, your relationship with food will transform. Over time, you will not judge, restrict, binge or complain about food. Over time you will treat your body and mind with the respect and care that they deserve because you will feel your worth and have a longing for this deeper well-being.
When you work with these practices I would love to hear about your experience. If you find these concepts to be overwhelming, you don’t have to go it alone. Reach out for support either from me or from someone you trust. Know that there is hope for healing.