So much of disordered eating is dealing with discomfort. No matter where you are on the spectrum, from mild emotional eating to a full blown eating disorder, many of the obstacles and hurdles on this path involve being able to deal with uncomfortable feelings, thoughts, and situations. Most of us are taught to employ any means necessary to escape discomfort and distress. Any time we feel anything, we run. We flee from the situation, racing towards something that will relieve us from the uncomfortable emotions. That “something” for many people can be drinking, excessive television watching, shopping, gambling, drugs, etc. For those that struggle with food addictions, it’s all of the sweet, savory candies, cookies, and desserts that serve as our escape from the discomfort.
Time and time again, when we face something unpleasant, we turn to food to assuage all of our stressors and find relief. Having a rough day at work? Come home and ease the stress with a bag of chips. Fighting with your significant other? Bury your anxiety and tension in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Feeling down in the dumps and just unsatisfied with your life situation? Drown yourself in finishing off the last of the Doritos. All of these behaviors stem from not wanting to feel anything unpleasant or uncomfortable. Stress, worry, and anxiety are not particularly enjoyable feelings. When we don’t know how to deal with the strain of a 60 hour workweek, the worry that stems from having a sick family member, the fear that comes with making a move across the country, or the normal irritations, frustrations, and nuances of daily life, we may use our familiar coping mechanism: food.
Life is full of discomfort. Yet, we are never taught to meet that discomfort with openness and acceptance. Instead, we learn to find a “quick fix” to relieve anything uncomfortable that arises. We feel awkward and nervous at a social function, so we overindulge on appetizers because it gives us something to “do”. We eat two bowls of ice cream every night because we are miserable in our jobs and don’t know how to make a change. Our job is so monotonous, boring, and unchallenging that we find ourselves making a daily trip to the vending machine to add some excitment to the day.
We are constantly running away from all of the things that scare us and all of the situations that rustle our feathers. But we have something very valuable to learn about these feelings of discomfort. Persistent anxiety about your job may be your intuition telling you that this isn’t the right career path for you. Constant fighting in a relationship may be a sign that this really isn’t the right person for you. Uncertainty and lack of clarity about an upcoming change may be your body telling you that you need to rest and relax instead of being on the go 24/7. All of the discomforts in our lives have something to teach us. We do not grow by constantly running away. Growth comes from being brave enough to sit in the discomfort, use our breath to get still, and ask ourselves what we can learn from the situation. Life is full of ups and downs, and if we don’t begin to learn to manage both sides of the coin, we may end up engaging in more and more destructive behavioral patterns with food.
Begin to be aware of all the times you want to run. On whatever level that is. Whether it’s eating emotionally to deal with boredom or stress, or it’s a full on food binge to escape the constant pressure from work/life, start to be cognizant of where and when you do this in your life. The first step is awareness, and with that initial recognition, you are more open and receptive to ways that bring change to your usual habits and reactions. This week, I challenge you to catch yourself when you want to use food as a coping mechanism. Share any insights or revelations below!
Next week’s post will discuss tools for dealing with life’s discomforts, so stay tuned!