Does Trying to Control Your Emotions Lead to Out-of-Control Eating?

Like a cloud passing, negative emotions will pass as well.

I don’t know about you guys, but when it comes to things like emotions, I’m a bit of a control freak. I’m not necessarily afraid of feeling things (’cause that’s just life), but I am known  to prefer to keep a relatively tight reign. Problem is, if there’s anything I’ve learned in the process of figuring out my emotional eating stuff, emotions aren’t realistically “controlled,” and telling myself that they should be only exacerbates the problem behaviors.

Emotions can be very informative and while we might be able to control our reactions to emotions, attempting to control the comings and goings of certain ones is often incredibly difficult (or impossible). The strong desire to control emotions, push them away or forget about them is basically what has in the past driven many of my unwanted eating behaviors and negative body thoughts. At least I could attempt to be in charge of those things, right? =)

Last week I was having one of those days where there was some stuff going on for me and I realized that they weren’t things I could control, fix or change and it got me thinking: two years ago, I would probably have been in this state of total discomfort, overeating to try and temporarily make it all go away. The more compulsively I tried to control feelings, the more I would compulsively eat!

This time, I didn’t even want to try to push it away or cover it up with emotional eating and when I realized that, I wondered (sort of astonished and proud) how I had gotten to this point?  I will say that it takes practice and patience (and maybe some talking to myself here and there).

Something I like to remember that I learned in a meditation talk once is that we aren’t our emotions. We can have them, but we don’t have to become them. I can feel sad, but also trust that the feelings of sadness do not define me and like a cloud passing, the feeling will eventually as well.

The difficult thing then is, how to tolerate an emotion that wants to stick around for a little while. I have found that the less I freak out about feeling strong emotions, the less likely it turns into overeating and other unwanted behaviors that I might otherwise be inclined to do. I know this isn’t easy, but I think a helpful thing to keep in mind.

I think I am sometimes afraid that if I just allow myself to feel, it will just be too much, and that I will in turn feel like “too much.” However, if I remember the idea that my emotions can’t define me and the passing cloud image, it feels a little less scary.

How are you guys with handling emotions? Control freak, or able to deal? Do you think it effects your eating and body stuff too?Morgan

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10 Responses to Does Trying to Control Your Emotions Lead to Out-of-Control Eating?

  1. Sunny says:

    I’m a controller, Morgan! Like you, my preference is to keep a tight reign on my negative emotions and just keep things nice and tiday…yeah right. Life doesn’t work that way. When I can relax into what I’m feeling, accept it and remind myself that these feelings are temporary, whatever I’m going through is much less traumatic. And it’s much less likely to affect what I eat. Lovely post! xo…Sunny

  2. CC says:

    Wow… this one hit home for me. I binged on Friday for the first time since entering treatment last month. Why? I felt overwhelming emotions of anger and sadness. Instead of meditating or talking to myself, I tried to push it down with carrot cake. The result? More anger and sadness. I actually felt like I was overflowing with tears after that binge! I have a better grip now and am trying to keep that thought of emotions not defining me in my head. Thanks for this timely post:)

  3. Kathryn says:

    Great post. I battled a lot with depression in late grade school and early high school. Since then, I always have to keep any negative emotions in check or I will gradually slip back and depression will take over. It can be overwhelming sometimes and feel like a constant struggle until I remember that the feelings are only temporary and, like you said, will pass. And when they do, I come out feeling proud of myself for not letting them get the best of me.

  4. Katie says:

    The amazing thing about emotions and thoughts is that if you try to push one away, suppress it, block it or whatever, it actually comes back STRONGER. It’s like, “Don’t think of a white elephant.” And that’s of course all you can think about.

    One very cool psychotherapy that deals with just riding the emotional wave is called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), if you want to look into treatment that deals explicitly with these difficulties.

  5. […] recognize myself from the days when my bingeing was at its worst. Many of us use food to try to control our emotions, but it doesn’t work. Those feelings keep getting stuffed down and packed away […]

  6. […] I have mentioned before, I’m not a big fan of not feeling out of control of my feelings, and I think that I also just […]

  7. A says:

    Wow, great article! This has helped tremendously. It’s such a comfort to know that emotions do not have to control you, and at the same time we don’t have to control our emotions through food. I think it’s important to feel each and every emotion to the fullest, even if it will hurt. Let it come to the surface & let it be released. A good outlet for me is music, or working out. I try to find something to do to match the same emotion I’m feeling. Thanks so much!

  8. Mindy says:

    It never used to be that way…but now it is.

    Lately I find myself wanting to eat to control my emotions because I have no one to talk to.

    Very few people in my life have been supportive of me as an individual.

    So yes, food can be a quick fix.

    My cousin is obese due to over-eating. She had a difficult relationship with her mother as a young girl, so she turned to food and boys as a way to deal with it all.

    Personally, food can be very comforting to me.

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