Feelings and food are inextricably linked—hence an entire field dedicated to Eating Psychology. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it, we don’t overeat or eat our feelings because we don’t have self-control. We overeat and eat our feelings because we don’t stop long enough and dig deep enough to feel our feelings or our hunger.

If you’re cringing at the idea of a therapy session in lieu of a 9-mile run, don’t run. Stay with me.

A few weeks ago, I told the tale of the Oregon Eclipse Music Festival. The cliff notes version of the story is that I was really anxious and stressed because my mini vacation was so far from the plans I had for it that it was hardly my mini vacation at all. 

In the stress and anxiety of the moment, it would have been so easy for me to make a U-turn into the donut shop—because that would have yielded satisfaction with great ease.  But instead, I stopped to examine why I was so anxious and what I could do about it. 

I got my ease in other ways. My anxiety ceased and my trip was delightful.

But before I got to a place where I could identify what was going on and address it quickly enough to prevent myself from pulling into the Krispy Kreme parking lot, I did a lot of work to understand myself. I did work to understand how I wanted to feel. 

The feelings we want to feel are, unsurprisingly, the feelings we are looking for when we overeat or emotional eat.  Case in point:  A former client of mine had a tendency to come home to her empty space and reach into the bag of candy over and over and over again. She came to me specifically because she knew her inability to resist the candy bowl was not doing anything for her health. But before we dug into what she should be eating, we dug into why she was feeling it. She was quick to identify that when she got home to that empty house, she would feel lonely.  It’s no wonder she would reach for candy to fill that void. Subconsciously our brains will associate candy with a plethora of pleasant emotions—we get to relive the joy of opening up a bag of brightly colored m&m’s and the connection of sharing them, even when there aren’t actually any friends around to share them with. 

So when she went to reach for the candy bowl to fill the void, she knew why she was doing it and she appreciated the comfort each bite brought, which ultimately left her more satisfied with less candy. And eventually, the simple act of recognizing her loneliness was enough to inspire my client to reach for her phone or go for a walk to say hi to the neighbors instead of reaching for the candy bowl.

Want to stop eating your feelings? You have to start by knowing which feelings you’re craving. 

Here’s how to start the process of uncovering those feels:

Step 1: Pause. Take a deep breath and check in with yourself.
Just stopping long enough to take a breath is a task on its own. We live in a super reactive culture and it’s natural for us to react completely unconsciously. Look for and create more opportunities in your life to notice yourself, your surroundings, and your feelings. 

Step 2: Ask yourself What am I feeling right now? 

To get to the core of how you want to feel, you have to analyze the feelings you know you don’t want. When you’re feeling uneasy, try to specifically name that feeling of dis-ease. (Use a feelings wheel, if you’ve got the time and energy to really dig deep.) Once you can name the feeling you wish you could get rid of, look for it’s opposite.  For example, overwhelm → ease; loneliness → connection; stressed → calm. 

Step 3: Write it down and post it somewhere.
Once you’ve identified what you what to feel, write it on a post-it and put it where you can see it. If you have a constant reminder of what you want to feel, you’re much more likely to seek out experiences that make you feel that way, rather than just basking in what you don’t want to feel. 

If you went through Steps 1 and 2 and you’re still unclear on what you want to feel, never fear. This is more of an exploration than a precise formula. I’ll be writing and sharing videos (follow me over here) about it for the next couple of weeks.