My eating disorder manifested in compulsive and binge eating. I spent years searching and searching for a solution, an end to my problem. I was desperate to stop eating when I didn’t really want to. No matter what method I used, how hard I tried I couldn’t seem to stop binging and eating compulsively. I was trying to stop the symptoms not the cause, because I had no idea what the cause was. In the end I gave up trying to reason with myself about why I did what I did, and instead focused on my inner world to provide a visceral answer. My behaviours weren’t changing so was it to do with my thoughts? I was astonished to find 2 things that helped reduce my eating disorder behaviours.
1) Give yourself permission to feel your feelings
This revelation was a complete game changer for me. I don’t know when I discovered that I was eating to compensate for feeling, but until that point I always thought that it was some cliche of ’emotional eating’. One day I decided to be curious about the way I dealt with feelings when they came up, a bit like being an anthropologist to my internal world.
When I had a compulsion to eat, I paid attention to my background chatter, and to my surprise I wanted to eat because I felt something that I didn’t want, or more crucially, wouldn’t allow myself to feel. These phrases were warning signs:
“You can’t possibly feel sad”
“You should be confident about this, you aren’t allowed to feel overwhelmed”
“Think about how selfish you are being feeling this miserable”
After this type of mental battering of course I would want to use something as a balm that my brain considered acceptable so I didn’t feel something that wasn’t allowed.
So when I began my experiment and a feeling and compulsion to eat came up, I paid attention to my brain and changed the chatter. I repeated to myself “I am allowed to feel this.” And to my surprise both the urge to act compulsively around food and the intensity of the feeling greatly diminished.
So I urge you to accept your feelings rather than fighting them because you are allowed to feel! The fear of a feeling is worse than actually feeling it. There is no shame in feeling!
This discussion on feelings leads me nicely onto method 2.
2) Write out your thoughts
Journaling is one of those things that most therapy encourages. I was a real sceptic as I thought it was very self-centred. Surely thinking about how you feel so much you want to write it down was selfish? However after randomly one day deciding to write, I discovered that writing out my deepest darkest thoughts made me feel so much better. It was a much better release than eating.
So when I got the urge to eat I grabbed a notebook and a pen and went somewhere quiet to write. I wrote after acknowledging to myself that noone ever was going to read it, therefore I could be as frank and honest as I liked. It was liberating to get so much weight off my chest. I felt like I was re-aligning my inner character and outer face – basically processing who I took myself to be.
My second method for you then is to write when you feel you can’t speak what is on your mind. Make sure noone can interrupt you, and honestly write about what you are thinking and feeling. It may feel strange to start with, but persist. You don’t need to make a routine out of it, but know when you have nowhere else to go that writing it out will process it in your mind.
There you have it: 2 steps for reducing your need to use food for emotional control. You must not beat yourself if you do this and still are eating against your will. Just try out different processing methods and look for the small wins.