If you are someone who’s struggled with emotional eating for most of your life, you probably feel a mismatch between how you want to nourish your body and how you end up eating.
You may come to me and ask me: I know what to do, I just don’t do it. Why can’t I do it?
The people I work with are incredibly intelligent and well informed. It’s not lack of education or information that is at the root. Almost everyone I work with knows how to nourish themselves well – you know how to create a satisfying meal and balance macro and micronutrients. You may even be the one teaching others how to eat well!
I think it helps to recognize that what you know matters, but what your body is doing also matters.
You can be equipped with all the knowledge of what foods support your wellbeing, but that when life gets stressful or busy, when there is relational strain or conflict, your body will respond.
You can control what goes or doesn’t go on your plate, but what you can’t predict or control (until you get to know yourself in this specific way) is how your system reacts to what’s happening around you.
When the stressors of life exceed your biology’s ability to self-organize, your body doesn’t function the same way as when you are navigating calm waters. The waves of life get big and so does your body’s response.
Under pressure some people will feel a flutter of internal charge that makes them anxious, restless, and unable to rest and settle. Others will shut down, disconnect from body sensation and float away – which may feel like a slowing down and living in a thick fog. Yet others want to escape and get away from what they sense, or become defensive and edgy.
All of this – from the flutters and pings of anxiety, to the dense molasses of shutdown – is a part of your body’s way of meeting life. The defense system, the attachment system, and your sensory system – all three, will be impacted by life’s challenges and will go into their respective self-protective modes.
When you’ve had a history of overwhelming events, from shock trauma and socio-political trauma, to developmental and complex trauma, the body’s physiology – the psycho-biological adaptations that these caused – will play a part in how you respond to life’s events today.
Your nervous system is not just responding from the present moment, it’s responding from how it adapted to the past, so it can protect you in the present moment.
It may feel like there is a giant gap between what you know intellectually about how to eat and what you are able to do to help yourself when the ability of the biology to function as normal is temporarily overwhelmed.
This is where emotional eating comes in. It meets the needs of the system better than what you can do with what you intellectually know.
It’s not just the food itself that helps, but the very act of how you eat, how much you eat, and what that does to your system that allows the overwhelmed biology to have a way to organize itself. This way to organize with external help happens based on old pathways you developed, based on old ways you coped.
My hope is that you get this very important piece – that there is nothing wrong with you for eating the way you do when you are overwhelmed or shut down.
In fact how you eat is showing us exactly what needs attention and how we can support your biology now, in present time, so that you have the resilience and capacity to meet your body’s responses with acceptance, competent care and compassion, instead of shame, guilt and self-condemnation.
I often feel immense gratitude to my body for the way it figured out how to use food to help me out of intolerable body states.
I believe I owe it daily gratitude. For many of us, gratitude is a wonderful door into our systems, but it’s really the help we can offer ourselves in present time that becomes the solid expression of that gratitude. May we be grateful, and may we also know how to take action.