Allowing Feelings to Be Present

If you’re an emotional eater, when a feeling strikes, 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, and compelling than thoughts. True or not, you see feelings as big, scary sensations to be avoided at all costs.

This belief is so deeply entrenched that 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, puts you in roadrunner mode, racing toward the fridge.

An emotion is literally energy in motion—the energy of a thought as it moves into form and impels action. Negative emotions are the source of our suffering, causing 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, if you are like I was, you will likely find yourself elbow deep in their favorite food. While you are stuffing your face, you feed the emotion with more story—more upset thoughts. This pumps up the emotion causing it to feel even stronger.

You may tell yourself that you use food to avoid feelings, but if you really look at the experience, this isn’t what happens. 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, your thinking may look something like this, “Betty Ann should have been more considerate. She should not have behaved that way. After all, what did I ever do to her?” The feeling is still there, you are pumping it up with more stressful thought and you have only made yourself feel worse by trying to avoid the feeling through eating.

One of the main growth opportunities for emotional eaters is learning how to tolerate feelings. After all, like everything else in the material world, feelings arise and subside. They come to leave. Although a feeling may manifest as a slightly uncomfortable contraction in your body, it really can’t hurt you. But to confirm this for yourself, you have to spend time with feelings, really allowing yourself to feel them.

When a feeling is on the scene, if you can, find 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 instead on the sensation in your body. If thoughts come in, simply notice them, and bring your attention back to the sensation. Make sure you don’t have an agenda for the sensation to dissipate. As far as you are concerned, it can stay 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.

The purpose of allowing a feeling to be present is that it moves you into sensation which allows you to shift out of your ego and into essence. In this quiet space, you have dropped out of the ego’s story and moved into alignment with the still core of your being. From this place, 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. When you have identified it, you can take it to inquiry, which will weaken and begin the process of healing this conditioning.

As an emotional eater, the more practice you can give yourself in feeling feelings, without trying to avoid them through food, the better. It is important to get into the habit of allowing feelings to present even if you continue to eat emotionally. After an emotional eating attack, you can still summon up the feeling and practice welcoming it. Even if you are not able to go off somewhere by your self and devote yourself to this practice, allow the feeling and mentally welcome it.

This practice teaches you that emotions come and go and are tolerable after all. Soon this new habit of allowing feelings to be present 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 feelings. Rather than pretending that you can avoid them 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.