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Whole Gourmet Natural Cooking

Alison Anton's Natural Cooking Blog offers healthy recipes, inspirational food articles and culinary advice for the natural chef, and features dessert recipes from her upcoming cookbook, Desserts for Every Body.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Food and Feelings - Separating "feeding from feeling" to ease food cravings and heal your life

Working with emotions is not about starving them, or their associated cravings, out. It's not about having control over them either. Contrary to our fear of them and our need to either act them out neurotically or suppress them completely, emotions have a genuine purpose, especially when it comes to food cravings and over-eating.

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When working with food issues, emotions have to be considered. Mentally "deciding" to change repetitive behavior because we have told ourselves "I will never do that again" after a binge usually doesn't change the behavior. Two hours, two days, maybe two weeks later, the emotionality of the craving comes back... no matter how hard we "think it away".

And this is good... We don't want emotions to go away. Without them we'd never grow.

The Function of Feelings

Feelings are here to inform us about what is happening inside of us. Just as the sense of touch gives us information about our external surroundings, emotions are a guide to how we are responding to that stimulus. External stimuli may be a touch on your arm, news that you just got laid off, or the sight of chocolate cake on the buffet table. Emotion is your reaction to that stimulus. Depending upon the context of the stimuli or your social conditioning towards it, you'll experience various feelings in response to its presence.

Emotions are one of our best, most basic opportunities for growth. Once we learn to experience the full range of our emotions, we can use them to guide us toward the most appropriate, fitting actions. If we are constantly overriding our internal messages, decisions become confused, and our actions impaired. The result is a life un-lived by our truest selves.

When we resist our emotions, we go toward feeding instead of feeling. With every emotion that gets denied comes an empty hole (maybe a pothole, maybe a crevasse, maybe a crater) that needs to be filled. Since we aren't filling the hole with our own experience of the emotion, we tend to fill it with "something other", namely food (or sugar, caffeine, nicotine, sex, etc). When we resist emotions, we never get to see them for what they really are: our loyal, unfaltering teachers.

The Power of "Wisdom Emotions"

With a little sleuth work, our emotions can help us understand our deeper desires and lead us toward the people and things that can help us fulfill them. But we have to take out our magnifying glasses, because emotions, as elusive as they are, are not always what they seem on surface-level. The closer we get to the starting point, the more solutions we are able to find.

The starting point of emotion -- or Wisdom Emotions as I call them -- are the deep, core feelings that underlie all surface emotions. They often run well below our radar because they're quite hard to define. Wisdom Emotions are less like emotions, but more like an initial "sense" of an emotion. I often metaphorically refer to them as the deep sea: a dark, deep foreign place filled with the unknown.

From this deep space, feelings get processed and become more like waves crashing on the shore. They have a stronger presence and are easier to define. These "secondary emotions" can now be labeled as anger, anxiety, frustration, guilt, craving, etc. Since secondary emotions are much stronger and palpable, the primary Wisdom Emotions are often left out at sea.

We often react abruptly to emotion, responding the same way day-in and day-out in a pre-programmed way, like a robot. Meanwhile the underlying lesson goes unnoticed, and craving takes hold to fill the empty space inside.

Understanding Wisdom Emotions and What Arises From Them

Here's and example of a Wisdom Emotion that tends to go awry with emotional eaters: Emptiness. Emptiness is a deep inner sense, not quite an emotion, but a "feeling sense" within. Everyone has it. It's the feeling of deep, empty space. But just as soon as this flit of a feeling starts to swim to the surface, the mind labels it, and the subtle feeling of emptiness soon turns it into something more defined, more fixed.

Emptiness has an inherent quality of fear in it. When we don't understand something or someone, can't get a grasp on something, and nothing is going our way, the fear of emptiness -- the void, the unknown -- is lurking.

This "empty" feeling often arises into these secondary emotions:
  • Helplessness
  • Hopelessness
  • Depression
  • Fear
  • Insecurity
  • Confusion
  • Grief
  • Loneliness
  • Boredom
  • Anxiety
The lesson from feeling empty - or any of the above secondary emotions -- often points us in the direction we least intuitively want to go: toward letting go. It is often a clue that we need to step back and settle the mind before doing anything. As the Buddhists would say, "Don't just do something, stand there". Or from another perspective: "Let go and let God". If we are always so over-consumed by the neurotic secondary emotions of feeling empty -- like feeling helpless, hopeless and insecure -- our decisions will be made out of fear and will lack the lustrous quality of a well-intentioned plan.

There are many more examples of Wisdom Emotions and the lessons we can learn from them; all of them cues that can help us make more informed choices about what we want (and don't want) and who we want to become (and not become). We can choose to utilize them for what they are, or resist them out of difficulty, discomfort and downright pain. But with that approach, the holes get filled with mere fluff and flotsam, leaving a hollow void that can only be sealed with the wisdom of our intuition, our emotions.


1. Koenig, Karen, LCSW, M.Ed. The Food and Feelings Workbook. Carlsbad, CA: Gurze Books. 2007.
2. Ray, Reginald A., PhD. Meditating with the Body: Emotions and the Body. Crestone, CO: 2007
3. Ray, Reginald A., PhD. Secret of the Vajra World. Boston: Shambala Publications, Inc. 2001.
4. May, Michelle, MD. Am I Hungry? What to do When Diets Don't Work. Phoenix, AZ: Nourish Books, 2005.
5. Welwood, John. Toward a Psychology of Awakening. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc. 2000.
6. Gendlin, Eugene. Focusing. New York: Bantam Books. 1981.

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At 10:34 AM , Anonymous Christine said...

I've been a person that uses food as a way to help suppress emotions and it wasn't the best motive I might add.

Thanks for this article. Hope it can help people prevent those pesky cravings once and for all.

At 7:41 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautiful & thoughtful blog! :)

clay ball


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