When you feel emotional pain, healthy eating can feel like the last thing on your mind.
When experiencing heightened negative emotions, we tend to indulge in overeating to help us get through.
I want to offer to you that another option is available.
You are able to feed your body in a way that cares for it while experiencing emotional pain.
Not with the goal of losing pounds of eating perfectly.
But as a way to care for your body in times when you’re healing emotionally.
In this article, I’m sharing how you can best manage your emotional pain.
And the 5 steps to navigate your eating habits when feeling those negative emotions.
It’s important to first clarify the difference between physical pain and emotional pain.
Physical pain travels from the body to the brain.
This is a sensation that you experience in the body first, which is then processed by your brain.
Emotional pain is the exact opposite.
It travels from the brain to the body.
This pain is a feeling, or vibration, in your body that is first created by a thought.
For example, when someone dies in the world, you don’t immediately experience pain.
Because you don’t yet have thoughts about it.
When you gain the knowledge that someone you love has passed, you then have a thought which creates that feeling of pain for you.
This isn’t to say the reasons for your emotional pain aren’t valid.
It’s just important to know that the reasons for emotional pain are always your thoughts.
Next, you need to understand the contrast that exists between positive and negative emotions.
You will never reach a place in your life where negative emotion doesn’t exist.
Because you will feel positive emotions half of the time, and negative emotions half of the time.
This is just the way of it.
Negative emotions will always be present.
Another way to understand this, is that there is no pain without joy, right?
It’s impossible for you to experience the positive emotions at their highest capacity if you never feel negative emotion.
This is a great way of looking at this.
The other good news?
We don’t have to let emotional pain or negative emotions run the show.
If you’re eating unhealthy as a result of emotional pain, it’s simply because you haven’t learned to manage your emotional pain effectively.
No one is taught this.
We’re only taught how to make ourselves feel better.
It wasn’t until I learned how to manage my pain that I was able to nourish my body properly, no matter my feelings at the time.
Before you learn how to manage your eating habits as it relates to emotional pain, you need to understand what you’ve been doing wrong.
As mentioned, most of us aren’t taught how to manage emotional pain properly.
In fact, our brains are wired to seek pleasure, avoid pain, and be efficient.
This is called the motivational triad.
All of our brains are structured this way.
Because of this, we will immediately look for ways to feel better when experiencing emotional pain.
Our main objective will be to seek comfort.
For most of you, this will look like you finding comfort in food.
Which results in overeating episodes that lead to continuous weight gain.
I want you to understand exactly what happens when you do this.
When you suppress emotional pain by overeating, you are setting that emotion up to come back stronger.
You are creating what I gracefully like to call “emotional constipation”.
This is heightening the intensity of the emotional pain you’re already feeling.
Because you’re unwilling to experience it.
When you suppress the emotional pain, it only adds to the pain you will experience in the future.
Which usually means, you’ll compound the pain and re-create the cycle for weeks on end.
Where you keep overeating in larger amounts to make up for the extra emotional pain you’re feeling.
This is what I want you to avoid for you.
Since it will only leave you in a worse place.
There is another way to navigate this emotional pain for yourself.
The goal isn’t to get rid of your emotional pain.
No matter how much food you eat, or how many Netflix binges you have, this is impossible.
My goal for you is to experience “clean pain” instead of “dirty pain”.
This means that you experience the emotional pain at the rawest level.
Instead of adding on unnecessary suffering through overeating and weight gain.
Here are the 5 ways you can begin managing your emotional pain and eating habits effectively during that time:
While it sounds simple, hear me out.
Most of us are unwilling to let ourselves experience pain.
Remember, our brains are literally wired to avoid pain altogether.
When you experience emotional pain, your brain thinks it’s in danger of being attacked (literally).
Which will trigger panic in your mind.
It’s objective is to keep you safe and alive.
As humans, we need to override this programming and make the decision to allow pain intentionally.
Regardless of the fact that your primitive brain wants to escape.
To help you do this, you can practice thoughts such as, “I am accepting and allowing this pain into my life fully & without judgment”.
Close your eyes, put your hand over heart, and say this to yourself.
Allow the experience of emotional pain to be present.
Here’s the part that is most crucial.
I want you to practice feeling that emotional pain at it’s fullest.
Be willing to sit in silence with that emotional pain for at least 5-10 minutes.
You can even make it a point to schedule time to experience emotion in your calendar.
The reason for this is not to create more suffering.
It’s to prove to your brain (and yourself) that despite the emotion feeling uncomfortable, it cannot kill you.
You also need to feel this emotion fully so you don’t suppress it by overeating.
Suppressing the emotional pain will only cause it to come back stronger at a later time.
Having the skill of feeling your emotions will be one of the most valuable tools in your arsenal.
I mention this a lot on my coaching, but practicing compassion and curiosity is key.
Especially when it comes to your emotions and eating habits.
When emotional pain comes up, I want you to be really compassionate.
Compassion is saying, “My emotions are valid and I totally understand why I’m feeling this emotion.”
You’re having your own back when you do this.
I also want you to begin practicing curiosity.
This means having a fascination with what you’re currently feeling.
In this case, you might think, “This is so interesting. I wonder what thoughts are causing this emotional pain in my body.”
Compassion and curiosity will do so much for you.
It will truly take this work to the next level.
You certainly want to practice experiencing the emotional pain at it’s fullest.
But that doesn’t mean you never want to experience comfort in your life.
What we want to avoid is you seeking comfort in overeating.
To prevent overeating patterns, practice finding comfort in ways that serve you.
This could mean calling an old friend.
Or taking a long walk outside in nature.
Maybe you adopt a furry friend.
Whatever way you choose to find comfort, make sure it’s in a way that serves you long-term.
Your brain and eating habits will thank you.
During times of emotional pain, you don’t have to prioritize weight loss or optimal nutrition.
That doesn’t have to be a goal during that time.
What I do want you to focus on is setting guidelines around food.
Not as a way to “stay on track”, but as a way to genuinely care for your body during that time.
By setting guidelines around food I’m not referring to strict food rules.
This simply means being very intentional with your meals.
For instance, you might decide to eat fiber and fruit in the mornings because it makes you feel satisfied.
You may decide to lower your sugar intake since it makes you feel less energized.
Maybe you limit your alcohol consumption so you don’t overindulge in alcohol.
I always help my clients create their own boundaries and guidelines when it comes to food.
So, they’re able to master their eating habits long-term in a way that serves them.
I want you to always have ownership of your relationship with food.
That’s what doing this will help do for you.
Follow these 5 steps to begin managing your eating habits around emotional pain.
The concept of feeling pain is a heavy one.
It’s something we want to avoid and are usually unwilling to experience.
My mission for you is to be able to experience any negative emotion that comes your way.
So, you can personally grow and increase your mental toughness.
Alongside changing your eating habits for the better.
I can’t to hear how this goes for you.
Hey there! I'm Kat Rentas. I’m a certified eating psychology coach for women who believes that eating healthy should feel simple and sustainable. I teach hundreds of high-performing women to change their eating habits without the overwhelm. Want to change your eating habits in a way that is aligned with your needs, preferences, and goals? You’re in the right place. You can read my full story here.