When an emotion strikes, if you’re an emotional eater your first impulse for is to reach for food. This reaction is less about the food and more about ducking the emotion. Because emotions are felt in the body, they feel much more real, powerful, and compelling than thoughts. Whether they are or not, you see feelings as big scary, sensations to be avoided at all costs.

This belief is so deeply entrenched that at the first sign of any change in your emotional landscape, any movement away from the status quo, whether it is due to sadness, anger, fear or even happiness or excitement, and you are in roadrunner mode, racing toward the fridge.

An emotion is literally energy in motion. As the energy of a thought as it moves into form and impels action, emotions cause us to expend a lot of energy and time. Luckily, it’s possible to sidestep them if you don’t buy into the thought that originally generated them.

However, the minute you christen a negative or stressful thought with belief, you transform it into an emotion and bam it hits in your body. The uncomfortable body sensation makes the emotion nearly impossible to ignore. At this moment, you will likely find yourself elbow deep in their favorite food.

Then, if you are like I was, you will feed the emotion with more story, more upset or excited thoughts. This pumps up the emotion even further. You tell yourself that you use food to avoid feeling, but if you really look at what happens, you do this at all. Eating may initially blunt a feeling. But when you are shoving in fistfuls of food, you are busy thinking and feeling barely notice how the food tastes.

Mentally attending to the situation that causes your emotional thunderstorm, you are thinking may look something like this: Betty Ann should have been more considerate. She should not have behaved that way. After all, I have never treated her that way. The feeling is still there and you have only made yourself feel worse in the process.

Perhaps the main growth opportunity for emotional eaters is to learn how to tolerate feelings. After all, like everything else in the material world, they arise and subside. To see that emotions really can’t hurt you means spending time with them, allowing yourself to feel them.

When a feeling is on the scene, if you can, take yourself off someplace where you can be alone. Then identify and welcome the feeling. For example you might say something like, “ sadness is welcome here.” Next drop your story about the situation that caused you to tell yourself something that made you feel sad and focus on the sensation in your body. If thoughts come in, simply notice them and bring your attention back to sensation. Make sure you don’t have an agenda for the sensation to dissipate. As far as you are concerned, it can be there as long as it wants.

Next, close your eyes and ask yourself, where you feel this sensation in your body. Is it okay to just be with this emotion? Can you tolerate it? If had a shape, what would it be? What about its size, texture, and color? Keep watching this form and get curious about what is happening to it. As you focus your attention on it, without any intention to have it leave, you will likely notice changes in the object’s shape, color, size, or texture.

In the quiet space resulting from your focus on sensation, you have moved out of your ego and into essence. Insights may arise that will give you clues as to the origin of the conditioning that this new situation triggered. These insights may also point to the core belief that gave rise to the emotion. And once you have identified it, you can take it to inquiry, which will weaken and begin the process of healing this conditioning.

Eventually the sensation and emotion will dissolve back into essence, just as long as that is not your goal. Perhaps feeling a feeling is not as scary or uncomfortable as you had imagined.

As an emotional eater, the more practice you can give yourself in feeling feelings the better. It is important to get into the habit of allowing feelings to present, without trying to avoid them through food. Even if you are not able to take yourself and devote yourself to this practice, you can still allow the feeling and mentally welcome it.

Seeing that emotions come and go and are tolerable after all, soon this new habit will replace the old habit of emotional eating. Reinforcing the practice of welcoming feelings and using them to move back into essence is a mature response to the presence of a feeling. Rather than pretending that you can avoid it by going unconscious and eating pleasure food, when a feeling arises, if you can allow yourself to feel it, you are free of it, rather than at its affect.