STRESS! We all experience it in our lives. It's the buzzword of our times. We seem to be living in an era that is VERY stress-ful and the statistics show we're pretty lousy at coping... We generally know what healthy coping looks like, but in practice Food is by far the most commonly used way - next to smoking- to soothe, distract and numb ourselves from our discomfort.
So what's that all about and are we doomed to continuously stress-eat in reaction to challenging events in our life? I remember I used to fear big changes and challenging tasks because it would mean I would gain weight... I thought the only way I could ever have the body I wanted is when I would live a peaceful, uneventful, 'perfect' routine life, without all the continuous ups and downs. I figured : "I'm just an emotional eater and I always will be, I'm destined to gain weight in the face of challenge"
Talk about a limiting belief!... Boy, do I wish I could tell young Isabelle then what I know now.
Let me bomb you with some truths.
1. Stress is the unavoidable consequence of simply being alive.
You can not escape it (unless you decide to go live in a buddhist monastery and even there we can argue that some aspects can be stressful: loneliness, lack of physical touch, the strict rules, ...) . Heck, we come to be on this earth by one of the most stressful events ever: birth and every next step of the ride involves stress: crying when hungry, crying when seeing new things/new people, crying when we fall over and over again in the quest to walk, crying when we don't like the teacher, etc. Trying to avoid stress is stressful in itself, because it is an impossible task.
2. Stress is not necessarily the enemy.
There is functional stress and non-functional stress. Stress can fuel performance by energising the body and science has actually proven that the way you think about stress impacts how it will influence your body. In fact, people who believed stress was not harmful to them, did not experience the negative health effects of it. Crazy? The power of beliefs people! Check out the science behind it in this Ted talk.
3. a) Emotional eating or Stress eating is OK.
Haaaa, is it? Well, every human being with consistent access to food has and will eat emotionally. Eating cake at a party, eating a second portion of your mom's signature dish, eating more than your belly would like on Christmas day, eating a bar of chocolate with your coffee after a challenging business meeting. This is all a very normal part of life, this is what 'normal eaters' do too. Food has a biologically proven soothing effect on the body. Eating is just one of many ways we can soothe ourselves. It is fairly neutral. You can soothe yourself with a romantic movie, a quick run, a hug, a nap or a piece of chocolate. The reason why people demonise the eating is because of our frantic cultural quest for thinness, and really, that, is where a disconnect can arise.
==> Because if you have chosen to eat the chocolate and then feel guilty and promise yourself to NOT eat chocolate like that again, you're once again controlling and restricting, making food the top of your mind and where does that get us?... Right. That is just another form of diet-thinking that will make you yo-yo your way through life, instead of eating with joy, connected to your body's wisdom.
b) Emotional eating or stress eating only becomes a problem when
Food has become your main or only coping mechanism to deal with emotions. When you chronically use food long term to not having to feel your emotions, to numb them. This is where your wellbeing starts to cripple, this is where your 'hunger' seems endless. Many people don't even realise anymore they have an emotion, because their bodies are SO habituated to instantly receive food at the slightest feeling of discomfort. Instead of feeling the emotion, they just feel the food craving.
No wonder so many people think food is their biggest and only issue. If you start using food this way chronically, putting on extra weight will be inevitable. If you then take the general advice of controlling and restricting your food, the whole diet-overeating-body hate struggle will do a good job in distracting you from the very reason why you needed to use all that food in the first place,... It is not about the food or the weight, you are not physically addicted to food either. (btw, food addiction doesn't exist, but that is for a different blog) It is about the emotions that you are eating away instead of feeling. Emotions that are so difficult to deal with for you, that food feels like the only safe way out.
And I can't blame you, there is a reason we don't easily deal with unpleasant emotion... We don't live in a society that encourages us to feel and openly express vulnerability at all. We have come to think that expressing negative emotions makes you look like a failure whereas actually... feeling and expressing negative emotions is what sets you up for success and happiness.
4. We live in the emotional dark ages and it's time for a "Feeling Revolution".
The word 'stress' is an oversimplification that doesn't benefit us. We think about stress as a general sense of feeling overwhelmed, but what we're talking about when we say 'stress' is actually a huge range of various upsetting emotions and they are all different. Calling being angry with your boss for not respecting you 'stress' and calling being afraid of not being able to handle your workload also 'stress', doesn't help us in dealing with the complex emotions.
We are living in an era in which our physical bodies have never been so comfortable (warm bed, warm water, food at our doorstep,..), but our emotional bodies have never been so challenged in our hyperactive, changing society. Yet what is our approach to emotions in this day and age? Well, we live in a culture where only positive emotion is deemed acceptable, we live in a culture where we collectively pretend to be on top of our game all the time. We hide away or deepest pains and put on a happy face, online or offline. At the slightest hint of an unpleasant feeling we want it to go away or we pretend it's not there. As kids people told us things like "stop crying now, that's enough", "be a good girl and put on a smile for your dad".
To be able to properly deal with negative feelings, we need to know it's ok to have a negative feeling, it's ok to have lots of negative feelings. Yet everything we're being taught since our childhood tells us the opposite.
What we have learnt to do is going like "oh no, an unpleasant emotion: please go away, go away" then we run away/hide/distract/numb with food so we don't need to feel it and slowly but surely we bottle them all up inside and we are completely disconnecting from ourselves. Depression, anxiety, addiction, etc directly links to our inability to digest and release emotion.
5. Learn to release emotional weight
We are deeply feeling beings and especially women are intensely connected to their emotions. In every life, every single day, there will be positive and negative emotion. That is a reality. Now we can't tuck away 50% of our emotional experience and expect ourselves to be fine with that.
For most of you reading this I can safely say: "The extra physical weight you carry on the outside is a representation of the extra emotional weight you carry on the inside."
"I used food as a way to feel better since I was 5 years old, I can still vividly recall those first times... And when I was 20, everybody thought I was the most relaxed, happy go lucky person they knew... and I thought so too, I rarely complained, I got my life on rails, I thought the only real issue I had was the fact that I was overweight and I just couldn't stick to a diet ... Hmm.. ;) "
What if your extra weight is simply your bottled up emotions? What if it never was about the food, but about feeling and releasing emotion?
How many times have you tried to deny your feelings as opposed to paying attention to them? How many times have you been 'agreeable' while in fact you were very angry? How many times have you tried to be somebody that you're not? play a role? please others?
The successful way to deal with unpleasant emotion is to feel it, be ok with it, name it, express it, explore it and then just move on until the next emotion comes along. Feelings are supposed to slide through us, not bottled up or clung onto. It sounds simple and with practice it really is surprisingly simple, but we need to get over discomfort to get in touch with that side of us again, to know it's safe to feel, and to know that we will not fall apart or be unlovable when we do.
It's time to start a feeling revolution! I have created a powerful 5-step technique to deal with an emotional food craving and actually use it to connect with yourself and your body again. There are 2 ways to access it: you can purchase the ebook for €4,99 here or you can join my closed Facebook community for free in which I will put up a video going in detail through the 5 steps and many more to come!