Eating disorders can be consuming and overwhelming. The process of recovery is often described as a roller-coaster of emotions that can lead to successes, slips, and burn out. There’s opportunity and growth in the journey making it a really interesting ride!
Although your relationship with food needs to be restored and healed, eating problems aren’t really about food. They are about deeper underlying emotional problems that find an outlet through behaviors around food. Restricting, binging, and purging become a way to escape, deal, avoid, numb out, prolong, lessen, or calm down emotions that seem too difficult to experience.
Because feelings are so complex and we are so poorly taught how to handle them, it’s easy to confuse food and feelings. However, if you constantly binge or reject food when you’re feeling an emotion (yes, pleasant emotions can lead to using eating disorder behaviors, too!), you don’t let your feelings flow and provide the message they need to deliver. Perhaps the message is that someone is crossing a boundary or that your feelings are being hurt. Eating disorders can mask those messages and very possibly, you don’t realize that your eating behaviors and negative body image are being driven by internal discomfort. In fact, you might be so disconnected from your inner cues, emotions, and body sensations that you don’t know they exist.
In order to fully recover from an eating disorder, the journey takes you to gain a deeper understanding of your emotions, your body, and your relationship with food. Throughout this journey you’ll discover a lot about yourself, your deepest yearnings, and desires. This is only achieved through your feelings as they open the gate to your inner world, connecting you to a deeper awareness and meaning of your eating disorder behaviors. In order to do that you need to be courageous and surrender your need to control food and let go of the seduction and comfort that provides your eating disorder.
By allowing your team and support system to guide you in the process of recovery, you start to make changes and discover new things. You’ll learn to listen to your body and have more words to describe your internal experiences, what’s going on in your mind, your heart, and your body. Remember, feelings are the ones that will lead the journey and provide meaningful and important information about yourself and your recovery. Eating mechanically can help in the process while you learn ways to become more aware of your internal levels of hunger and fullness, triggers, and thoughts associated to your eating disorder. It can also help in the process of learning to differentiate between food and feelings, regain your hunger and fullness cues and separate food from feelings, taking care of both individually and mindfully.
Connecting to your feelings may seem scary and even unattainable for someone who has been dependent on their eating disorder, but through this practice, and the use of new self-soothing techniques, you will start to become more skilled at knowing and understanding what’s happening in your inner world. There’s no magic cure or secret recipe for recovery. Food is food and feelings are feelings. The intentions behind your behaviors with food are the key to uncovering the function of your eating disorder and can be what connects mechanical eating to intuitive eating.
The process of connecting to your hunger and nourishing your body intuitively is more complex than just learning to identify when you are emotionally or physically hungry or full. The dynamics of body-mind integration of internal sensations, instinct, emotions and thoughts become a way to honor your physical and emotional needs. When your intentions become clear, you become more aware of the messages that you send to your body and the messages that your body is sending you, why you’re feeling the way you’re feeling, and what you really need to feel better.
By becoming the expert of your own body and setting clear intentions for how to manage your feelings and food, you nourish your body at different levels, you start to practice a new way of being with yourself, and connect with yourself. After all, only you know how hungry or full you really are, why you don’t allow yourself to eat when you’re hungry, or why you chose certain foods when you’re feeling sad, anxious, or lonely. Learning to recognize emotional from physical hunger and fullness through mindfulness of your body, thoughts, and emotions, helps you gain body attunement or the ability to hear and respond to your body sensations: physically and emotionally.
Eating intuitively becomes a personal process with clear intentions, attention, and understanding. You become the expert of your own body and can honor its needs, but for now, if eating mechanically is all you can do, do it. Nourish your body and be curious about your experience before, during, and after your meals. Mechanical eating meets intuitive eating in the process of becoming aware!
Carolina Gaviria, LMHC, NCC, CEDS is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, a National Certified Counselor, and a Certified Eating Disorders Specialist located in Boca Raton, FL. For more information or to contact Carolina, please visit www.solutionsintherapy.com.