How Your Emotions Change How You Eat

 

In the last post, I wrote about a simple approach to making your meals healthier. Simple. That word is so deceiving. It means “easily understood”; it does not always mean easy to carry out. A simple decision might be easy, such as “I’ll drink a glass of water as soon as I get up.” Deciding to give up sugar or choose whole foods over processed is simple, however, if it were easy, people would just buy different groceries and I’d be out of work.

I’ll go a step further and say that “simple” holds a certain amount of wisdom and potential for growth behind it. Giving your kid a new limit, like no TV on Tuesdays, is simple, though requires you to stretch some of your parenting muscles, and him to exercise his creativity. Letting him watch because you’re tired today is easy, but may not be the best thing for him…or you…in the long run.

When you first introduce the idea, there will be resistance (aka a temper tantrum or two) until the new routine becomes habit. He’ll bend over backwards to negotiate a trade (“I’ll stay off on Wednesday”) or to convince you that letting him watch TV “just this one Tuesday” will be ok. While it’s important to hold space for those possibilities to come up, it’s best to stand your ground. You know from experience that if you hold firm for 10 minutes, he’ll back off and end up having a blast rediscovering the Playmobil he hasn’t touched in months.

Similar scenarios will play out in your head after you give up, say, sugar or dairy. You’ll have inner (or outer!) tantrums about how it’s unfair that you can’t have ice cream when all your friends are eating it. You’ll negotiate extra kale or a longer workout tomorrow, or promise yourself this will be the last bowl of ice cream you’ll ever eat in your entire life.

Like a good parent, you need to give those outbursts room to release. Maybe not by kicking and screaming in the middle of a restaurant, but in your journal, talking to a friend, or by dancing it off in your living room.

Once the storm has passed, this is the opportunity to explore neglected nuggets that might have gone unnoticed for months or even years. I’m talking about emotions and memories that get stuffed under that need for ice cream.

“I’m afraid I’ll never enjoy my food again.”

“I don’t want to burden my friends with my health issues.”

“I’m sad that I can’t eat what I want.”

“I feel like I’m being punished…like my body’s betrayed me…like it’s all downhill from here…”

Ah, now here are the forgotten toys – the parts of you that you shove to the back of your emotional drawer.

In my yoga class last week, we focused on hip openers. The teacher prefaced the class by reminding us how, as part of the second chakra, home of how we connect and relate to the world around us, the hips are the drawers where we dump all the emotional stuff we don’t want to deal with. Like the trinkets and old clothes that clog up your dresser, stuffed emotions block the internal feng shui of your body – unexpressed emotions clog up the flow of energy and movement in your life. No wonder we women end up with tight or arthritic hips!

Your intestines, as well as your uterus and ovaries, also sit in that same area of the body. What does that say about the women who show up in my office? Women with IBS, constipation, bloating & gas, menstrual pain, fibroids, infertility. Seems the hips aren’t the only place that collect our emotional junk for storage.

Beyond the brain-gut connection, this bit of energetic anatomy clarifies how emotions and food are so tightly linked. Incidentally, the stomach, liver and pancreas lie in the 3rd chakra – the seat of your will and anger – another potential hotbed of emotional turmoil mixed in with your eating habits.

Just as cleaning out the dresser breathes new life into your wardrobe and your home, giving those old emotions space to move up and out opens up your body and life to similar movement.

Perhaps April is a synchronous time for me to be preparing to put my house up for sale. The urge to spring clean has helped motivate my efforts. As I declutter and clean and sort and donate, I have the time to get curious about the emotions that surface: about leaving this place, leaving this city and everyone I know. There are days when I have to stop the work and just be with the sadness, the fear and anxiety. There are days when I plow through another closet. And some when I avoid it all by eating every sweet and starchy thing I can find in the pantry.

There’s another good word: avoid. A-void, void-less. In stuffing my face with cheese bagels and apple pie, am I trying to re-clog the space I’ve so diligently created?

I’ve done a lot of writing, a lot of crying, talking, singing, dancing, and I’ve supported myself through the pain with flower essences and body work. Perhaps it’s time instead for me to sit in that open space and allow possibility to unfold. Here goes… feels like I’m bored in my room with no TV…until I start to notice the “toys” around me.

The void morphs into a sacred space, where waits my love of adventure, my excitement about setting up a new house (I already catch myself playing mental doll’s house with some of the places I’ve seen online.), a clean slate for my work and a whole city full of friends and clients I have yet to know.

Without really trying, my urge for sweets has subsided and I’m ready to nourish the new life I’m about to create.

This type of work isn’t easy…you may have to face some harsh realities about yourself, or wade through some pretty nasty sludge. It starts with the simple act of giving the shadows in the corner room to breathe. It starts with the simple gesture of being gentle with yourself no matter what surfaces.

It starts with listening to your body.

What have you discovered about yourself as you make a food shift, or other life transition? Or where do you get stuck every time you try? When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

15 thoughts on “How Your Emotions Change How You Eat

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  3. You’re a great writer, Cathy. You managed to pinpoint exactly what’s going on in my head when I fall off the eating bandwagon. I actually find that there are times when I have to make such a concerted effort to avoid the chocolate/carbs (not completely, but only at those times when I feel that I reach for them excessively — and unnecessarily), and it’s a relief to know that I’m not the only person going through the internal struggle. Thanks for going deep and exploring these complex feelings, and their sometimes-complex repercussions.

    • We’re definitely not alone in this, Suzannah. I like that you qualify the problem times only as those that are excessive and unnecessary – the chocolate and cookies aren’t bad in themselves, but how we use them that can be damaging. (Thanks for the kind words as well. They are truly appreciated.)

  4. “Just as cleaning out the dresser breathes new life into your wardrobe and your home, giving those old emotions space to move up and out opens up your body and life to similar movement.” I loved this sentence in your post because I am a professional organizer and what I love about my work with people is how cleaning out their homes and paper piles breathes new life into their energy around change. When we make room for serene spaces mentally and physically we help ourselves change! I have been having a warm lemon water…something I recommend to clients to organize their health and on top of that having a healthy homemade organic green juice daily…today is Day 18 in a row! I love all your comments on sugar…my nemesis and I am following your wisdom to boot sugar to the curb. Oh aye! Tantrums daily on giving up sugar.

    • Embrace those tantrums, Jul’s…or rather, let ’em out! They’re like the balled up socks at the back of the dresser, making everything else smell. Add celery (juiced or sticks( and oatstraw/lemongrass tea to your sugar-kicking routine…they help get over the cravings.

  5. For me, having a history of digestive sensitivity, I know first hand how my mood can affect my digestion and I’ve grown to know what foods I can be sensitive to and how to balance my emotions so I have more digestive ease.
    I’ve found that by ensuring I have tasty nourishing ingredients and snacks to hand, it really helps me to eat in a way that nourishes me and is gentle on my digestion.
    Experience reminds me that it’s vital to have my healthy snacks in place, especially when travelling, even if it means carving out time to prepare them late at night or early in the morning. I’m worth it.

    • Oh yes, Ferris, planning ahead is a huge part of healthy eating. Again simple…not always easy in the moment, but sure makes life easier when you’ve done it.

  6. When I healed myself from depression and an eating order, I made a LOT of food shifts. I actually still do because I’m constantly adapting to things happening in my life (I recently gave up all grains for a couple of months to heal my gut). In the beginning it’s always hard because we so often depend on certain foods both in a psychological and physical way. But finding other ways to nourish ourselves is incredibly rewarding. The sense of freedom you feel when you realize you no longer “need” to eat specific things just to make you feel better … priceless :-). I love what you said about unexpressed emotions clogging us up. Thanks for sharing your thoughts :-).

    • Oh yes, finding ways to nourish ourselves goes way beyond food. I can appreciate the work you did to heal all you have.

  7. “unexpressed emotions clog up the flow of energy and movement in your life . . .”

    a true statement that i see every day in my work as a coach. and i see it in my own life as well, of course. this is a year marked with many transitions for me, and this month so far has been especially difficult for me. keeping up with my daily qi gong practice and taking lots of deep breaths have helped me maintain the flow of energy and movement and retain my peace of mind.

    • Kudos to you, April, for taking even the simplest of steps to keep you moving despite the pain and difficulty of transition.

  8. I agree, Cathy, that our bodies are always communicating with us. As an esthetician, I have learned how different zones on the face correspond with issues in the body. For example, breakout activity on the chin relates to a woman’s hormones. Fluid retention under the eyes indicates kidney or intestinal issues. I think we all need to become more aware of what our body is telling us and to develop a mindfulness to make the necessary changes.

  9. I’m familiar with having to re-parent myself. It pops up for me when I’m working, working, working until I completely burn out. And at those times, my food choices are less than stellar.

    Where I get stuck: When I don’t make time on the weekend (because I’m working, working, working) to plan healthy meals and shop for them.

    Coincidentally, I made time last weekend to do just that. I feel SO much better this week.

    Powerful article as always, Cathy.

    • Amazing what happens when our inner mom takes us by the hand… What happens differently if you engage her again this weekend?

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