Emotions and Eating DisordersHave you discovered any connections between your emotions and your eating disorder? Do certain emotions tend to bring on food-related behaviors for you? Do you have a difficult time identifying and expressing your emotions?

When it comes to emotions and eating disorder behaviors, there can be close connections between the two and yet those connections aren’t always easily recognizable to us. We tend, though, to have a hard time allowing ourselves to feel our emotions. For some of us, we think it’s better to keep our feelings hidden inside. For others, we may have grown up in an environment where we weren’t allowed to express ourselves or were ridiculed in some way when we tried. We, therefore, never learned how to express our emotions in healthy ways.

What happens to unexpressed emotions? They don’t vanish just because we’re uncomfortable dealing with them. They build up, don’t they? And when they build up, the idea of allowing them to surface is so overwhelming that we try even harder to suppress them. This is one instance where food-related behaviors come into play. The eating disorder provides a focus for us to numb, avoid or stuff our feelings. For example, some may turn to food when they feel angry or sad. Others may turn away from food when they feel betrayed or lonely. Some may purge in an attempt to rid themselves of painful emotions. Some may be filled with a vast array of emotions and may not necessarily connect a particular emotion with a specific food-related behavior. At any rate, these are just some possibilities. Each of us is unique so our emotional makeup as well as how our emotions translate into eating disorder behaviors will vary.

What can be done to deal with the connection between emotions and eating disorders? There are no easy answers to this question. A person may need to spend a lot of time discussing this very subject in counseling. Here are some basic ideas, though, to aid you a bit in this matter.

1. Make a list of all of the emotions you can think of. When you have a difficult time identifying what you feel, review this list to help you find a description for how you feel. If you still find it hard to identify your feelings, that’s okay. If you’re used to stuffing your feelings, it will take time to learn to identify them.

2. Let yourself feel. If you want to cry, then cry. If you feel angry, yell, punch a pillow or something else that helps you release the anger.

3. Sometimes you may not know why you feel as you do, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Don’t let that stop you, though, from letting out your feelings anyway. For now, you don’t have to understand what caused your feelings in order to release them. It may take time to get in touch with your emotions.

4. Write about your feelings in a journal. You may find that as you write, you’ll uncover even more feelings as well as hidden thoughts you didn’t realize were there.

5. Write letters to others who have hurt or abused you in some way. Unless you’re working with someone who advises you and supports you in sending letters such as these, this suggestion is meant as something to help you let out your emotions, not to write letters that you actually send to others.

6. Draw or paint, sing or play an instrument, write a story or a poem. You can try doing something along these lines to help you express your emotions.

7. When you feel drawn to engage in a food-related behavior, stop yourself, identify what you’re feeling and express it in some way. If you can’t stop yourself before you do a behavior, stop yourself in the middle or think things through after you’re done with the behavior.

8. Talk to a friend who understands that you aren’t looking for advice, but for a sounding board so you can talk through your feelings.

9. You may find that once you let out your emotions in healthy ways, you won’t have that emotional build-up clouding the way you think about things. Sometimes we can think more clearly once our feelings aren’t as intense.

10. Remember that it takes time to change how you deal with your emotions. Much of this may be new to you. Be patient with yourself.

11. Be honest with yourself and with your counselor about your feelings. There’s no need to feel guilty, ashamed or embarrassed about your emotions. Feelings are feelings and whatever you feel isn’t a matter of right or wrong. It’s a matter of learning what to do with your emotions.

12. Pray about your emotions and your eating disorder. No one understands how you feel better than God. You can ask Him to enlighten you about your emotions, spill out your heart to Him and rely on Him to help you learn healthy ways to release your feelings.

Regardless of how your emotions relate to your eating disorder, know that you can learn healthy ways to express your feelings. Allow yourself to feel, and be patient and honest with yourself. Explore some different ways you can release your feelings instead of stuffing them or numbing them with food-related behaviors.

Remember that when you don’t allow yourself to feel the uncomfortable or painful feelings, you also miss out on the positive emotions that can make you smile or help you feel at ease. Don’t deny yourself of that anymore. Let yourself enjoy the feelings that make you happy.

For much more on this topic, check out the Learn to Deal with Emotions lesson in the Christian Eating Disorder Recovery Course.

By Laurie Glass