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Why Does Food Sooth my Aching Heart?
Imagine the scene – it’s 5:00pm. Everyone is home from school. Baby screaming. 4 year old temper tantruming.
10 year old trying to tell you about your day. AHHH you want to scream. You want to run away. “How is this happening again?” you ask yourself.
The pain, frustration, hurt, anger, and resentment boil in your blood. You begin to think about all the horrible people in your life, and all the terrible circumstances that got you to this moment right now.
All of a sudden, the oven bell rings and the chicken nuggets and fries come out of the oven.
You serve each child because of course your children’s needs come before yours. As soon as there is some peace and quiet, you notice that you just ate 5 chicken nuggets…. You keep eating… some fries…cookies… a soda.. Pretty much anything edible at this point. And the tight gripping of your stomach begins to loosen. It is still painful and overwhelming to feel like you can’t handle a situation – but there is some sense of soothing and calming going on.
Does this sound familiar? For some of you maybe not, but for the majority of women I speak with, this is pretty much a daily, or at least weekly, occurrence.
Here’s another one. It’s Friday night and your husband has to go to shul at the perfect time – bed time.
You’re alone with all your kids for a few minutes (hours, years!)!! Finally when he comes home, you wash and eat an entire challah. You only realize when there is nothing left in the challah tray and you’re scraping the bowl. You intended on having one or two pieces because you wanted to enjoy all the delicious food you prepared.
Yup. Another thing women describe to me- “I am the only one that does this, what’s wrong with me??”
Today, I want to tackle two really important points about our relationship with food.
Number one – many of these women need simple reminders that their most basic need of all, food, needs to be a priority.
Would you send your child to school without lunch and snacks??? I ask my clients this question and this is what I hear…“OMG OF COURSE I WOULD NEVER DO THAT, THEY WOULD STARVE!”
And my very nice response back is “UM EHEM, did you pack yourself anything for your 6 hour endeavor today?” And what do I hear back?! “Nah, I’m good without food – who needs food?”
It’s quite comical when you think about it this way. We pretty much think we’re superhuman.
On a biological level, a human body can not function without food.
The body can not function optimally without being fed regularly – every 2-3 hours. Try to drive your car without gas, go ahead I dare you. I know you have a Lexus and it can make the trek – uh oops my mistake it can not run without gas and neither can your body.
So on a biological level, if you aren’t eating every 2-3 hours, food that you enjoy, that keeps you sustained, you can’t possibly function properly.
Give yourself some compassion if you’re recognizing this now. Maybe you really never thought about it this way and start off slow. Try to set an alarm to ring every 2-3 hours to check in and see if you’re hungry/what you want to eat. Always keep snacks in your bag and in the car that feel good in your body.
However, let’s say this mother is fully fed and she takes really good care of her physical health, but when she feels any type of emotional pain, the food just calls to her. It’s her best friend. Food has always been there for her. When she fell and hurt her knee, her mom was there with a lollipop. When she got into trouble at school, those donuts were the only thing that took the edge off. When her one year old throws the broccoli in her face, the ice cream just calls her name.
This coping mechanism takes the edge off at the moment, but it feels pretty lousy when she finds herself uncomfortably stuffed on a daily basis.
So what can she do in these exact moments when stress levels are high and food seems like the only available coping mechanism?
I’d like to introduce you to a whole new world of healing. Let’s start with Dr. Sarno.
Dr. Sarno’s work came about in a similar manner to how intuitive eating came to be. Dr. Sarno was working in the field of back pain for many years, performing traditional medical interventions, but his clients were not getting better. He cared deeply about his ailing patients and wanted to dig deeper and find a solution for their pain. What he discovered is that there is a place in our back where blood flow will constrict and cause horrible pain, but no permanent nerve damage. This is actually an incredible coping mechanism the body performs, because if emotional pain is repressed, it will never go away. Your body does this to get your attention without causing permanent damage.
Pain is actually a beautiful gift from G-d.
Pain tells me something is wrong and I must act. Someone who has nerve damage is in a grave state because they can not detect when something is wrong. And many of us are walking around in grave states because we have blocked off our emotional pain, and are unable to fix the problem without awareness. This is the perfect place for the body to create pain because it is not trying to create permanent nerve damage. It’s just trying to give you a little nudge, a smoke alarm if you will.
What can you do to express and handle painful emotions?
Many are aware of acupuncture, which works by releasing the negative energy stored in the body. But you can try something at home, any time, anywhere, during any dinner time panic attack (assuming you don’t mind looking a little bit off).
Let me take a moment here to speak directly to you. If you never learned how to process emotions, you don’t just suddenly know how to because you happen to be an adult. For many of us, strong, negative emotions were the worst possible thing we could have as children. If we expressed them we were considered weak, complaining, annoying and ungrateful. To all the adults out there reading this and feeling heard, I get it. Our parents generation was not our generation. I think that because we are just a few generations away from the generation of the Holocaust, our lives compared to there’s was so much easier, that we were told we didn’t have a right to complain. We didn’t have a right to feel. And now – here we are – suffering the consequences of that faulty set of beliefs. Am I blaming anyone? Absolutely not. Am I explaining to you why feeling your emotions may not come easy to you – yes. So keep following along and see if this resonates.
EFT (emotional freedom technique), also known as tapping, is when we tap on pressure points in our body. We mainly repeat the words of the emotional pain while we tap to let all negative emotions surface, process and eventually dissipate. Some clinicians explain this as “feel, deal, heal.” As I tell my clients, a day after tapping may be the worst day of your life, but that means you are on the upswing. You have now let yourself feel that pain and you can begin to let it go. The way Perl Abramowitz explained it to me is that pain is like “U” shape; in order to start heading up, you need to reach the bottom.
Back to our really sad Mom from the beginning of this blog. Let’s identify what she is feeling and go there with her:
We can bring in some ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) here. First, we can try to take a step back from the pain by saying “I feel…angry, I feel frustrated.” Or we can say “I am noticing that I am feeling angry, frustrated, resentful.” This helps many people remove themselves a bit from their feelings. Others, not as much.
Once you let yourself express your negative emotions, you have usually opened up a can of worms and the list may go on for some time…
You may start with “why do they always spill the milk,” to “I hate everyone, no one cares about me, how is this my life, I wanted more, I am so tired, someone listen to me, anyone, pleaseeeeee.”
Go for it….Lean into that pain.
Start tapping on those pressure points. Some people can’t speak, they just make noises. Let it out. You are allowed to feel emotional pain. When you are ready, you can choose how you wish you felt in this place. The more you do it, the better it gets. Keep trying it. Keep doing it. You will see how much better you feel once you’ve processed the emotions.
Dr. Sarno actually has worked with many rape victims who have never discussed that trauma before. They didn’t realize that such a traumatic event was partially trapped in their body, causing them continuous pain, even though the memory was stored away. When they finally processed that pain, they were healed from their back pain.
Please understand that before trying this approach, Dr. Sarno first ruled out any real medical problem. When all else failed, he realized there may be an emotional component involved. Our physical health is just as important as our mental health. Just like we get regular doctor check ups, we need to be checking in with ourselves emotionally to stay healthy. For many people, this is not something spoken about. Feelings were too heavy and too scary to confront. We are seeing the collateral damage of that now and we can stop the chain. Our emotions are there to help us move!
This is a tool I find incredibly powerful and it can be done on your own.
Those strong feelings don’t just go away because we pretend they aren’t there. You are allowed to feel your emotions and the more you do, the better you get at it! Food may start to lose some of its power once you actually let the emotion in. Once your emotions are dealt with properly, that bite of chocolate cake my just feel like your eating chocolate cake and your not burying your desire to scream your head off at the spilled milk which feels more like spilled hot lava running down your emotional back.
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To see more blogs like this, check out https://gilaglassberg.com/blog/
I also blog on Project Proactive. Check out my most popular blog here: https://www.jproactive.com/post/gila-grief-journey
Catch me on Instagram @Gila.Glassberg.IntuitiveRD
Check out my podcast here: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/get-intuit-with-gila/id1507567418
and my YouTube Channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLgljMg-GQ36nxBkyKxIMcg
Gila Glassberg is a Master's level registered dietitian and a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. As a teenager, she was faced with constant diet talk, body shaming and obsessive guilt around food. She struggled with disordered eating. This is what propelled her into the field of nutrition. She uses a non-diet, weight-neutral approach called Intuitive Eating. She helps growth oriented women break out of chronic dieting, and regain clarity into what is really important to them.
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