One of the biggest reasons we turn to food for comfort is disconnection. We’re disconnected from ourselves.
As author Julie M. Simon writes in her book The Emotional Eater’s Repair Manual, “You’re cut off from your most basic signals, your emotions.” In her book Julie shares a helpful strategy for reconnecting to ourselves.
She defines self-connection as simply going “inside regularly and check[ing] in with your inner world of emotions, needs and thoughts. You continually monitor your internal world. Just like a master mechanic, you listen for signals of distress and make the required adjustments to meet your needs and stay in emotional balance.”
Often what we really want has nothing to do with food. And by continually turning to food as our everything, we never feel truly nourished. Instead, our needs go unmet and we end up feeling empty.
This is Julie’s 3-step process for connecting to yourself and overcoming overeating:
1. Ask yourself, “How am I feeling in this moment?” To access your emotions, at first, you might need to find a quiet spot and take a few deep breaths. Julie also suggests writing down your emotions, because you can get distracted by the many thoughts swirling in your head.
There are seven core emotions: happy, afraid, hurt, guilty, angry, sad and ashamed.
Think about how different emotions feel in your body. For instance, Julie feels sadness as an ache in her heart. She feels anger as a tension in her head or body.
Also, is there a color you associate with your emotions? For instance, if you’re depressed, your world might look dark, she says.
2. Ask yourself, “What do I need?” Many people, particularly women, are much better at identifying everyone else’s needs. But with practice, you can learn to identify and express your needs.
Julie includes a list of needs for various stages of life. For instance, you might need space, commitment, community, purpose, joy or silence.
The key is to get specific with your needs. Say you need more love in your life. According to Julie, “What would it look like if this need were met? Would you receive more affection? More connection? More intimacy?”
If you need more connection, does that mean talking to your friends over the phone or having your spouse truly listen to you?
If you want your spouse to truly listen to you, Julie says to get even more specific. “I need John to take fifteen to twenty minutes a few nights per week and lovingly listen to me and reflect back to me what he hears rather than just saying uh-huh.”
In addition to being specific, Julie also suggests being creative and flexible by coming up with two or three ways to have your need met.
Remember that people aren’t mind readers. Unless you express your needs, you can’t assume that someone automatically knows them.
When expressing your need to someone, Julie suggests sharing how you feel, stating clearly what you need, being respectful of the other person’s needs and making your request.
3. Use your “wise inner nurturer voice” to comfort yourself and address your needs. According to Julie, your inner nurturing voice helps you identify your emotions and needs, validate them and provide support.
Unfortunately, many of us only have access to an abrasive inner critic. If that’s the case for you, model the voice after a kind relative, mentor or therapist. You can even pick a famous figure you admire, Julie says.
Julie includes several examples of this 3-step process in her book. In the below example Julie’s client Carol focuses on dealing with her mother’s demands. For her inner nurturer, Carol picked the voice of an elder member of her church.
Step 1: How am I feeling in this moment? I feel agitated, guilty, alone and sad.
Step 2: What do I need? I need my mother to stop making demands and appreciate what I do for her. I need her to be happy.
Step 3: Use my wise Inner Nurturer voice: It makes sense that you feel agitated when Mom constantly makes unreasonable demands. And she’s not very gracious, so of course you feel unappreciated. Mom may not be willing or able to change her ways, so it’s up to us to change. Let’s lovingly tell her that we’re just unable to be there for her all the time and that we hope she understands. I’ll remind you that you don’t need to feel guilty; it’s not your job to meet all her needs and make her happy. In fact, you can’t make her happy — happiness is an inside job. I know that you’re sad that she isn’t happy, but you can’t change or fix that. You’ve already spent too much of your life trying.
Talking to yourself like this might feel strange or silly. But if you think about it, we talk to ourselves allll the time. The difference is that it’s usually a very critical or even indifferent voice.
Using a nurturing voice helps you change the conversation and focus on your needs in healthy ways. It helps you feel truly nourished.