It's 3-o'clock. Do you Know Where your Feelings are?
We've all been there: It's 3am and you find yourself tossing and turning, worried about tomorrow's project or yesterday's food choices, what you did or did not do, what you ate or did not eat, what you said, what you should have said... what someone else thinks of what you said or did... or ate... And all this time, you are wondering whether sleep will come to you before morning or whether you'll have to face the day exhausted with all of these unresolved concerns weighing heavily on your mind.
Or maybe it's 3-o'clock in the afternoon and you're fretting over how you are going to get from now to bedtime because the kids will be home from school in less than an hour and sports, dinner, homework, cleaning up, catching up with your partner and planning for tomorrow still lie ahead. You think about the leftover chocolate cake in the fridge and contemplate zoning out with a forkful of creamy icing -- a small pick-me-up to bridge the afternoon slump. But then you remember your promise to yourself to eat more healthfully, exercise regularly and take better care of yourself and you know that the chocolate cake will derail your efforts to do that, possibly triggering a binge. Suddenly it all feels unfair and taking care of yourself feels like one more thing on your endless list of "to do's...," one more deprivation.
It doesn't have to be this way.
Many people who struggle with overeating and "weight" concerns do not realize that the feelings (acknowledged or unacknowledged) that we experience at 3-o'clock can have an impact hours later... driving even the most motivated of us to the refrigerator for comfort.
I have been there and done that and here's what I have learned from studying the psychology of dysregulated eating for years:
Overeating (whether of the emotional, mindless, binge or compulsive variety) often results from our well-intentioned attempts to care for ourselves and compensate for stresses and unacknowledged (often subconscious) thoughts and feelings from hours (or even days) prior.
We experience stress as a result of our thoughts and feelings, often without taking the time to identify what they are. Over time, the stress and our critical self-talk wears on us and we turn to food for comfort.
The good news in all of this is that awareness is the first step toward change.
Self-kindness and a new (learnable) skill set can help those of us who use food to cope find better methods to manage our busy lives while eating in a way that strengthens, rather than undermines us.
Emotional intelligence is one of those learnable skills. Emotional intelligence, as defined in the book of the same name, by Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., refers to the ability to acknowledge, identify and manage emotions, without becoming derailed by them.
Learning to identify how you are feeling without reacting to it right away helps you understand what is troubling you or making you tired or bumming you out.
By acknowledging and identifying your feelings, you automatically get some distance from them. You can then choose to respond, rather than react.
So, the next time you are feeling harried or stressed at 3 o'clock, you get to choose. You can choose to learn to name the feeling, get curious about where it is coming from and what it is there to tell you and then decide how to respond. Or you can simply react, allowing yourself to get carried away by it and the other emotions that wash over you during the day and find yourself mindlessly noshing on a chocolate bar or a bag of chips for comfort. As someone who has done it both ways, I can tell you that my life (and eating patterns) are better when I take the time to practice the former. If you need help getting started, try this:
The next time you find yourself awake at 3am or annoyed, anxious or exhausted at 3pm, take stock of what you are feeling. Accept that you are having this feeling without making a judgment about it or yourself. Try to name it. And then, get curious about what it is there to tell you. What can you learn? How can you speak to yourself in a supportive, positive and empowering way as you deal with this situation and learn the skills to deal with others? You just might find that this simple act of self-kindness lowers your stress level and allows the feeling to pass without your having to react to it -- or eat it.
Will this simple exercise solve your eating problems for good? Let's say it's more likely a good start. Those of us who have struggled with food, body dissatisfaction and the scale know that healing overeating is a practice of consistent self-kindness and learnable skills. Once you incorporate those skills and an attitude of self-kindness into your life, you take control of that healing.
Want skills? Sign up for my newsletter, visit my website at deliberatelifewellness.com, or sign up for one of my classes on healing overeating and incorporating self-kindness into your life. Your best life awaits!
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