Last week’s blog discussed bringing awareness to all of the ways we use food to escape life’s uncomfortable feelings and situations. When we become mindful of how eating to ease stress, boredom, frustration, and anxiety can become a destructive habit in our lives, we are then able to be more open and receptive to learning new ways to deal with the discomfort. By constantly running from all our fears and feelings, we never delve into those emotions to examine and understand what we can learn from them. Remember, we do not grow by constantly running away. Transformation comes when we simply pause and be present to what arises instead of immediately trying to make the discomfort “disappear”. Incorporating these four helpful steps into your life will enable you to begin to unravel the tangled web of destructive eating patterns.
Notice where food coping behaviors manifest in your life: It can be helpful to keep a journal when you want to figure out any patterns you may be unconsciously engaging in. What situations cause you to want to emotionally eat? Is it after a long stressful day at work? During a visit with your family or relatives? Thinking about an upcoming event you shouldn’t have said “yes” to? Every Sunday night before the workweek starts? It may be hard to pinpoint at first, but when you begin to consciously bring awareness to those times when you are using chips, cakes, cookies and candies to numb your feelings or as an escape from discomfort, you will find patterns beginning to emerge.
Examine those feelings of discomfort: After identifying the patterns you have in your eating habits, look at WHY you want to use the food to assuage your feelings. Besides it being uncomfortable and wanting the feeling to go away, what else is there, hidden below the surface, that you can pay attention to? Did deeper to find clues. If every time you spend time with your family or relatives you want to overeat, there may be a message there. Maybe you aren’t finding that balance of doing the “have-to’s” vs. the “want-to’s” when it involves family commitments. Or perhaps there are expectations placed upon you that no longer resonate with you. It could be that your disordered eating patterns occur when you face something you are afraid of. Do you find yourself reaching for that candy dish when you feel nervous about a big project at work? Do you tend to have seconds or thirds of dessert at the thought of having a serious talk with your significant other? This may be an indication that you need to allow yourself to have those fears and anxieties, instead of trying to make them disappear. Looking deeper into our eating behaviors and the ways we use it to escape discomfort brings clarity and understanding around the habits that do not serve us.
Find alternative ways to bring comfort: There are many ways to address our behaviors around food. If it’s a feeling you are trying to escape, find other activities or methods that bring you some comfort. If you’re anxious or nervous, try writing thoughts down in your journal to vent and let it all out. If you’re angry or frustrated, maybe a good workout will do the trick. If you had a rough day at work, it could be a phone call to a close friend to lift your spirits. If the food pattern is on a deeper level, look for ways you can begin to change that area of your life. If it’s related to your job, think about ways you can make small changes towards a more satisfying work day. It doesn’t have to be a drastic career change; it can be something as simple as taking “self-care” breaks every hour where you do something fun for a few minutes. Or adding music during those long stints at your desk. Whatever the issue is related to, there are ways, both big and small, that you can incorporate more balance and pleasure into that area.
Remind yourself that life is full of ups and downs. There will always be new challenges, situations, and obstacles coming up for each of us; that is the nature of this journey called life. There is a duality in life that we seem to ignore as a society. We encounter both highs and lows and peaks and valleys; there is no way to escape this inevitable ebb and flow of life. Yet, as a society, we are conditioned to only chase the “good”, pleasurable experiences. We want everything to be all rainbows and butterflies, all the time. To think this way is a delusion and a disservice to ourselves. There is no way to travel through life without hitting rough patches, bumps in the road, even massive detours. We must gently accept this truth if we want to be able to manage our discomfort without turning to food. If we can navigate the road of life with more acceptance of the things that we encounter, whether we deem it good or bad, we will be better equipped to learn that particular life lesson and move on. Life’s irony is that we can’t always know what’s good or bad for us. The job you got fired from may be your ticket into a new career you are passionate about. The heartbreaking ending of a relationship may be the push you needed to move to another city and begin anew. An unexpected illness may give you the time and space you need to rejuvenate your mind, body, and soul. We can never know how things will turn out; and believe it or not, that’s a good thing, as things turn out often better than expected.
So next time you’re experiencing some form of discomfort, whether that’s the boredom of a monotonous job, the stress of a life change, or the fear that accompanies a big risk, resist the temptation to run. Instead of looking to escape, smooth it over, distract yourself, and make the uncomfortable feelings “go away”, use these four steps to help you learn and grow. Share your thoughts below! How are ways you’ve coped with life’s discomforts? I’d love to hear 🙂