How to Overcome Emotional Eating

By Rena Greenberg

Are you an emotional eater? Do you use food as a coping mechanism for the challenges you are facing? What if you could resign yourself to the fact that your life contains both miraculous and amazing moments of joy and, at other times, deep periods of growth?

If you truly could accept that sometimes life is difficult, would you still need to push feelings of disappointment and doubt away with food?

If you are honest with yourself, you may come to see that you often eat as a way to avoid feeling bad. Obviously, the result is that after you overeat or create an overweight condition for yourself, you feel even worse. However, your diversion tactic worked. Now, instead of focusing on, or even maintaining awareness of the original “problem” that was “eating away at you,” you can pinpoint your pain on something tangible, and you can blame yourself for being overweight. Now, you can focus all of your precious life energy on trying desperately to solve the problem of your overweight condition. You can obsess about food, calories, scale numbers, and points, and give your mind something to chew on and dwell on endlessly, with few solutions to be found.

If you go back and trace the roots, you can see that the whole reason you have a weight issue is because you didn’t want to feel your original feelings of insecurity in the first place.

This original inner wound may even go back to childhood, when you felt hurt or rejected or mistreated in some way. When you can realize and accept that part of being alive is experiencing pain or feelings of insecurity and then become willing to be with your experience and have compassion for yourself, you no longer need to numb yourself with foods that are poisonous to your system or with too much food. It can be very helpful to witness yourself when you are about to engage in compulsive or unproductive behavior and just step back and observe what’s going on inside your mind. Are you feeling bored, anxious, or unhappy in some way?

Is your inner voice telling you lies such as: “What’s the difference what I do now—I’m so hopeless!” “This feeling will never pass! It’s who I am.” “I might as well eat this food [or drink this drink]—it’s the only pleasure I have.”

Just becoming aware of this negative, destructive voice can be so helpful, because it allows you to watch it without identifying with it. You can breathe into the voice and help it to dissolve into something much larger than itself—like the same loving, healing, creative force that makes a small seed grow into a majestic, beautiful tree. When you become aware of these two opposing forces, you can realize that you have a choice as to which one you allow to drive you and your decisions.

Your creative, all-knowing voice may inform you that:

“This feeling will pass. I am in control of my life and my habits. I breathe the life force and healing light into every cell of my body and into every thought. I prefer healthy, nutritious food and I eat only when I am physically hungry.”

Finding Acceptance and Patience
I had the privilege of traveling to Lake Arrowhead, CA, four times a year for five years to complete a Master’s Degree program at the University of Spiritual Healing and Sufism. One of the things that struck me when I first went to the top of the mountain where Lake Arrowhead is located was the dry lakebed.

I used to take walks around the lake, and felt the sadness of the region, seeing many boats and docks on dry land, far from the water’s edge. This went on for two years, and I imagined how helpless the dock and boat owners must have felt about the situation. There was NOTHING they could do to bring on rain—to make the lake full again. All that was required was acceptance and patience, and coming to terms with the fact that the lake might always be this low for the rest of their lifetimes.

After two years of this drought, on my 9th trip to Lake Arrowhead, during the winter months rain poured down relentlessly for the entire week that I was there. It rained so hard that week I couldn’t even go outside.

By the following April, to my delight, the lake was full once again. When I walked around the lake, every boat and every dock was surrounded by deep water. I could feel the deep joy and gratitude of the region, as the whole area came alive with people relishing in the blessing of this beautiful body of water.

That experience taught me, in a very profound way, the value of patience and the natural ebb and flow of nature and life. When the lake dried up, people were helpless to correct the situation. There was no denying that it was a sad situation, and all anyone could do was accept the sadness of the way things were. Often it’s the same for us in our lives. We have a difficult time so we turn to food, generally unconsciously, to soothe ourselves. Very few of us were taught how to make friends with our grief.

We’ll do anything to cover it over, including building ourselves up, being aggressive, or withdrawing. Very often we turn to food addiction as a way to mask the grief. But we need to be OK with the sadness that we experience in life. There are going to be times when life is difficult—when we feel alone. Lake Arrowhead was dry for at least two years.

During times of sadness, it’s so important to be accepting of yourself, to give yourself love, not to turn your back on yourself…to be patient with yourself and to know that this is part of being alive.

During times of hardship, instead of acting out and making things worse for yourself, have faith to know that your difficult feelings will indeed pass and that new blessings and joy are coming your way. Don’t blame yourself or others. Do what you can on the physical level to create change, but then release the situation and focus on being kind to yourself and others.

There is an ancient Sufi saying: “The price of an open heart is pain.”

The amazing thing is that when we do finally say yes to the doubt or insecurity, and accept that it’s there while having the courage to look for the gift in it, it often transforms into something beautiful.

When you see this, you realize at a cellular level that you no longer have to mask your painful feelings by reaching for any addictive substance such as food. Beyond your pain is where you can begin to get a taste of the Deep Love, Peace, and Joy behind everything and everyone that connects you to all of life. This vast, infinite force is always available to lift you higher and help you to see that not only are you blessed, but you truly are a blessing on this earth and that everything is happening exactly as it’s supposed to unfold.

Rena Greenberg is the author of The Craving Cure: Break the Hold Carbs and Sweets Have on Your Life (McGraw-Hill) and The Right Weigh: Six Steps to Permanent Weight Loss, which is used by over 100,000 People (Hay House Publishing). She conducts weight loss and stop smoking seminars and has a private hypnosis practice in Sarasota. She can be reached through her website at

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