Audrey Jolly Therapy

Emotional Eating…What Drives It?

Posted May 23rd, 2014 in Mental Health

Emotional Eating…What Drives It?

I'm just completing the first week of a 21 day cleanse in which I have given up sugar, caffeine, alcohol, gluten, dairy and meat. My body thanks me and I feel great. As my partner digs into his peanut butter cookie, my inner child screams “I want one too!" "How come he gets one and I don't?" "It's not fair!" She just keeps complaining and protesting… feeling angry, sad, hurt, defeated, abandoned, unloved and so on.

"Interesting" my inner observer says…"but I feel so good in my body." I'm sleeping better. I have more mental clarity. I have more energy for moderate exercise. My body feels better from the abundance of veggies, fruits and healthy green smoothies it's receiving. So there are two distinct streams of consciousness happening at once. There is the protesting, deprived inner child that wants cookies and the satisfied, inner adult who is feeling so much better.

Thankfully, I have a lot of experience with knowing how to hold the distressed inner child so that she doesn't end up “driving the bus" in situations such as this one. I acknowledge the feelings she is having and say to her “I know it feels unfair doesn't it." I tell my partner that I'm living vicariously through his guilt-free pleasure with the cookie and I grab a delicious, juicy pear and bite into it to redirect my attention to a healthy substitute.

She may cry inside and say “it's not the same" to which I reply “I know it's not the same…but it's juicy and delicious." And I gently draw her attention towards the pear. We need to draw upon our healthy, inner parent to comfort our inner child when we desire healthier lifestyles.

ACKNOWLEDGE - VALIDATE - REDIRECT What works for me is acknowledging the feelings first (I know it's not fair) validating them (I know you feel sad, unhappy hurt, angry...whatever you can identify as the current feeling) and re-directing your attention towards a delicious, healthier substitute, acknowledging the feelings all along the way.

I didn't always have such inner resources available to me around eating. In early university I was an emotional binge eater and I lived with a pre-med student who was one also. Sugar was my particular food (or drug) of choice. I wasn't over weight due to a counterbalancing starving behaviour along with my binging but I was on a dangerous rollercoaster towards self-destruction. In my worse days, I could wake up in the middle of the night and take handfuls of brown sugar straight from the bag while my roommate was eating pounds of ju jubes and vomiting them up by sticking her fingers down her throat.

Our mothers were visiting us on weekends, bringing us chocolate, pecan pies to express their love to us. You get the picture…it was an unhealthy, emotional mess. Age old unhealthy habits leading to unhealthy bodies and psyches.

It took me a long while to unpack the feelings around my eating habits as they ran deep into my family history but what a relief to be able to eat what I want, when I want and have my inner adult present to navigate the emotional child through the tough feelings of deprivation and disappointment when healthier choices are made.

Of course this applies not only to food but to any addictive substance, be it alcohol, drugs, sex, television, internet, etc. Once you recognize the emotions driving the destructive habit and the feelings are unpacked, you find inner emotional resources to bring to the suffering parts of the self. Developing a healthy relationship to food is as rewarding as developing a healthy relationship with someone special in our lives…only we are with ourselves 24/7 so healthy thoughts, beliefs, and habits are a huge influence in creating a healthy, happy life.

Contact me if your inner, emotional child is "driving the bus" of your life and you want to lovingly move her, or him, to the child's safety seat for her or his own protection (and yours).


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