Can you recall a time when you have eaten in a state of anger? When someone has upset or annoyed you, or something hasn’t gone well? Perhaps you have suffered some kind of loss or defeat? Angry eating is a response to the feeling of anger. When you’re feeling anger that means that you are feeling hurt. It is important to address that anger, otherwise you will be storing it up. That will affect how you relate to others - and to yourself.
If you eat while experiencing feelings of anger, even the way you eat can be angry - you’ll favour crunchy foods like crisps and raw vegetables – anything that makes use of your jaws - experiencing the sound of your biting - you like the violence of the jaw action as you bite heavily into these foods. This is just a response to hurt, you use those mechanisms to soothe it. But the thing is, when you don’t heal your hurt you are more likely to hurt yourself - and others.
So what can you do to help yourself in the moment? In the short-term, you can help yourself by being aware of your feelings and emotions. Are you eating in a peaceful or relaxed mindset? Or are you eating to soothe some underlying issues? Eating in order to soothe your emotional state is likely to lead to putting on weight because you aren’t dealing with the emotion, so you’re eating to pacify it – and so you’ll need more food as the short-term soothing subsides. And the danger here is that you’ll keep repeating this cycle, because by now your mind has made it familiar- and the mind sticks to what is familiar. *
It helps to try to be in the moment, be in the present. I like the quote of ancient philosopher Lao Tzu who said “If you’re depressed you are in the past, If you’re anxious you’re in the future and if you’re at peace you’re in the present”. So awareness is one key. When you are aware of your emotional state you can deal with the feelings more effectively. A good way of mastering awareness is to practice mindfulness. When you are eating, monitor how you’re feeling – you can do this quietly, focussing on yourself; ask yourself “how am I feeling?” - anxious, angry, sad, joyful - whatever you’re feeling, acknowledge it. If you are experiencing anger or anxiety, can you do something about it before or while you’re eating? You have maybe an hour’s lunch, and you have an issue that is in the forefront of your mind. Can you do anything about that issue at that precise moment? Most probably not. So as an alternative, can you try asking your mind to postpone dealing with whatever it is until after your lunch and not eating while that is sitting in the forefront of your mind.
Whatever action you take, bring awareness to the fore. And then you’ll come up with a strategy. “OK this is my lunch hour, I‘ve got an hour (or whatever), I’m going to devote this time to focusing on my eating and the food itself”. And a good thing to do is to eat slowly, thoughtfully, savouring the flavour in every mouthful that you take. The habit of eating can so easily fall into a mechanical routine whereby we engage our mind in other thoughts and distractions, to the point where sometimes we hardly even notice what we are putting in our mouths. How many times have you eaten lunch with a hundred and one things on your mind and by the time you realise that you’re eating, you’ve finished! Can you even remember what you had?
If your habit has become to take your meals quickly, in one bite, chewing it once or twice and swallowing it, you’re denying yourself so much of the pleasure of food. But now with mindful eating you can slow things down - you bite, you chew it ten (or more) times now, you experience the flavours for longer, and then you ingest it. It’s going to be strange at first, yes, because it’s not familiar to you yet, but the more you practice the more you are in the moment and therefore present, then the more likely you are to be increasingly at peace and relaxed. If you want to you can reinforce that mindful state of eating with affirmations like “I am putting the best and tastiest food into my body because I deserve the best”, “I am supplying my body and mind with quality, nutritious food that will enable me to function at my best”, and “This is my way of looking after myself by giving my body useful nutrients that it can use to make me feel better, work better and enjoy my life more”.
When you are focused on being more relaxed and rested and well fed, you’ll have more space for creativity. Because anger depletes the blood supply to your brain. And if the blood supply to your brain is diminished because of that feeling, you won’t have the capacity to enable the creativity to sort out the problem because your main priority is to get out of the situation - to run, to fight, to do whatever you need to do, body-wise. So from the anger you will get a rush of adrenaline and a rush of cortisol which is compelling you to move – to get up and out of your chair. But the thing is that so often we don’t – we feel angry, upset, but we are sitting with that flood of stress hormones in the body and they don’t go anywhere and they don’t get used, which is very bad for us.
These hormones and chemicals have to go somewhere - so where do they go? They go into your stomach, your gut, your lungs, your heart. They go into places you don’t want them to go because they’re not designed to go there and stay there; these are fast-creation chemicals, designed to be fast-released. That’s their purpose. So by creating unused chemicals you can get stomach cramps, they might go to your heart and constrict your heart, they can even go to your brain and cause you all types of different problems. The adrenaline is created specifically for the purpose of reacting to your anger - a certain amount of stress is good to have, yes, it propels you to do something - but you do have to do something. And when you use that energy, then it gets dissipated, but when you are sitting with it and you do nothing, your body will let you know. We can forgive others, we can forgive ourselves, but our nervous system does not forgive us – indeed, it cannot, because it has created these on-demand chemicals and it cannot un-make them.
The brain is saying “hold on, I’m flooding your body with stress hormones, yet you’re not moving. So I’m going to direct those chemicals somewhere else”. And only you know where you feel them. Only you know where in stressful situations which parts of your body will get affected. For some people it’s in their lungs, others their back, others their gut or throat.
So the best way to help yourself is through awareness, mindfulness, meditation. Walk or sit in nature if you can – even a window onto an outside space can be a valuable way to change your viewpoint. If it’s a sunny day go outside and look at nature while eating your lunch. If it’s a bad weather day, find a relaxing, calm or quiet space and pop some relaxing music on your headphones while you eat. While you’re eating avoid social media, the news, negativity of any sort. When your awareness is already telling you that you’re in a negative or stressed state of mind, the best way to help yourself is to do something opposite- or at least different and positive. Mindful breathing techniques can also be enormously helpful in encouraging a more positive mental environment.
So by applying mindfulness techniques you can substantially calm your mind before eating. This will allow you to enjoy your food more, digest it better, and hopefully help you to go into your day with a more positive attitude.
Enjoy your meal!
*Our brain wishes to move us from a place of pain to a place of pleasure - and food is one of the easiest options at our disposal. For those of you who feel you may be in this cycle, this can feel uncomfortable. However, this isn’t the only possible outcome. When my Solution Focused Therapy enables you to identify the root cause of the issue you don’t need those amounts of food to overcome the pain that you are suffering. Because the root has been eliminated. Solution Focused Therapy can go to the root cause of your anger- what caused you to be like that, because until you solve it subconsciously, you haven’t solved it at all.
We can talk about issues consciously but it's important to be aware that you’re not dealing with them, you’re just talking about them. If you would like to discuss any issues around eating, please book a Free Discovery Call where we can talk over what's troubling you, and you can discover how my Solution Focused Therapy can help you move on.
Juan Carlos is a therapist and author with over 22 years' experience as a diagnostic scientist.
All blog entries are Copyright ©2019-2023 Juan Carlos Gouveia, All Rights Reserved.
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