Stuffing Emotion by Eating

Do you stuff down emotion by eating? Millions of us do, and are overweight because of it. But have you ever really tried to understand what that stuffed-down emotion is?

Mostly, it’s sadness. Sadness is the perfectly normal response to loss and failure. Everybody feels sad at times because all of us fail to get everything we want. Sadness is the most ordinary, garden-variety uncomfortable emotion.

The difficulty is that we live in a culture where cheerfulness is presented as the norm. Somehow we got the wrongheaded idea that we’re supposed to be—or at least look—happy and upbeat most of the time. Then normal sadness arrives, from time to time, and we have to bridge the gap between the way we want to look on the outside and the reality of our inner feelings. So we stuff those sad feelings with a piece of chocolate cake. This creates two problems:

  • First, we get fat
  • Second, the stuffed feelings weigh our emotional system down, even as the food we consume to avoid those feelings adds weight to the body. Unseen when you step on the scale is the unprocessed hurt and sadness you’ve swallowed along with the dessert.

The problem is not the feeling, it’s what you do with it. The solution is to let yourself feel sad when you’re sad. Doing so helps you get through it, often sooner than you might expect. The key is to just let the emotion be there without trying to fix it. Every time you do, you assert that your feelings don’t have power over you: you have the power over them.

Dealing effectively with sadness is key to becoming emotionally healthier, and not very difficult at all once you recognize it. The next time you have some kind of loss or failure and feel sad about it, notice what’s going on. Instead of heading for the fridge, feel the sadness as a genuine emotion, and honor that moment. Then move on.

The Seventh System is your best guidebook to your emotional system and how to feel better more of the time.

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