Wednesday, 12 May 2010

How to manage our feelings so that we don't have to eat them away

Today I watch my two and half year old have a massive meltdown. I'd promised we'd go to the park and then it rained and we didn’t. He wailed and thrashed, tears streaming down his little face. He was inconsolable. I watched as his disappointment turned into fury. He threw himself on the ground and beat his fists, sobbing and screaming: "I wanna go paaaaaaark!" over and over again. It went on for what seemed like ages. Then he stopped and sat there, a bit shell shocked, sniffing and hiccuping. I offered cuddles, they were accepted. I stroked his hair and suggested a race to the nearest tree. A huge smile illuminated his tear streaked face and off we ran.

There was no chocolate involved. It didn’t occur to him to ignore or sooth his feelings with Maltersers or Kettle chips or with a large caramel frappucino. He surrendered willingly to his despair and anger. He let it all out, rode the storm and then got on with his life. As I witnessed this I reflected on how wonderful it was that we have this innate ability to do that…and then immediately thought how sad it was that so many of us don't.

So how do we give ourselves a chance to feel our emotions, to experience sadness, anger and fear? How do we stop stuffing feelings down with food? We tell ourselves we can’t, that we’ll end up overwhelmed by desperation, consumed with rage or drowned in terror. That we won’t be able to manage. And yet we can. Think of how much more experience, wisdom and life skills you have than a toddler. If he can face his feelings and come out the other end unscathed, so can we.

The answer lies in finding strategies for dealing with those feelings. In having an array of tools at your disposal that allow you to experience these feelings without being overwhelmed by them. To be furious and be in control, to be devasted and be in control, to be panicked and be in control. Tools that work because you thought of them and they fit into your life, because you have experimented and found an approach that is effective for you.

So, next time you find yourself reaching for food and you know there’s a big emotion behind it – experiment with one of the ideas below…NONE of these are meant as distractions or ways to take yourself away from what you are feeling, If anything they are quite the opposite, ways of making the feelings manageable, so that you ca allow yourself to experience them fully.

Finding ways to manage all our feelings means that we don't have to eat them away.

Engage with it. Feel sad and cry, feel angry and rant, feel afraid and shake, feel elated and laugh. Remember, it will pass.

Contain it. If it’s not the right place or the right time to engage with a feeling or it’s just too big, put it away temporarily in a ‘safebox’. This is not about ignoring it or pushing the emotion away.When you decide to contain your emotion this way, make sure you set a time and a place when you will open the box up again and take it out. This may mean waiting until you are alone or in an another place or until you have the right type of support to help you with it.

Give it words…or shapes or colours. Give yourself free reign to write, draw or doodle. Put into words or a picture anything you are feeling.

Soothe yourself. We don’t mean you have to sit cross legged on the floor meditating! Having a sentence that you repeat to yourself over and over again can be as reassuring and claming as eating! It’s a bit like munching crisps or chocolate one bite after another! Saying something like:
  • I’m ok, I’m ok, I’m ok, I’m ok, I’m ok, I’m ok, I’m ok, I’m ok…
  • Breathe, breathe, breathe, breathe, breathe, breathe, breathe…
  • I can do this, I can do this, I can do this, I can do this…
  • It will pass, it will pass, it will pass, it will pass, it will pass…
  • What would work for you? What would helpful for you to hear?
Get support from the Beyond Chocolate community. You can post on the forum 24/7 and there’s always someone to listen. There are dozens of threads which you can post on or just read for inspiration. One in particular is called ‘I need support’. The forum is a hugely supportive and welcoming environment and can make all the difference. There’s something about knowing that you’re not on your own, that hundreds of women have experienced what you’re going thought, understand and speak the same language. If you want to join them and get some support for yourself now, just click here

Join us for our new  'Feelings' Masterclass series - Read more


  1. Brilliant post, and such wise words about your little boy just going with the flow of his emotions and then moving on. Why do some of us find it so hard to do that?!
    I will definitely try to follow your advice next time I find myself standing in front of the open fridge in a zombie-like trance. I guess it takes heaps of patience to get back to that stage where your natural response is to just let your emotions happen to you,rather than numb them by stuffing your face.
    Thanks again for all the ideas and suggestions. I really enjoy reading this blog :)

  2. Great Blog (now that I've found it!). How do I sign up so I can get notification and a link to future Blogs?


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