We live in a larger-than-life culture—over-the-top celebrities, high drama on the big or small screen, and screaming headlines. All this excess may make you think that emotions, too, must be huge and pack a wallop to merit attention. Not true. It’s not always the mega stars that shanghai you into abusing food; sometimes it’s the minor characters that lurk right your proverbial nose. In fact, if you’re constantly searching for emotional divas like dread, rage, jealousy, intense shame or the like, you may be missing out on some mighty important bit players playing around with your heart.
The best way to interact with emotions is to keep a loose, running tab on them. Stay closely tuned to your emotional channel 24/7, then turn up the volume when you feel some static. Your emotions are as accessible and as identifiable as your thoughts if you remain aware of what you’re feeling on an ongoing basis and practice calling them by name. You might run the gamut from “content” or “in balance” to “irritated” or “impatient” to “furious” or “disgusted.” The idea is to check in with yourself frequently (the same way you do when eating!) to see if anything’s stewing which might eventually bubble over and get you into trouble. Checking in with emotions is simply another habit to cultivate.
For example, running around all day taking care of business and/or other people, you’ll probably hit some rough patches when you’re annoyed, helpless, put out, or anxious. If you ignore these feelings, they might just pile up until you’re ready to blow a gasket or become so wired you want to jump out of your skin. By tracking what you’re feeling all along, you won’t get caught off guard and will be able to take action to reduce your distress before it gets out of control. This means noticing that you’re impatient on line at the bank, irritated from spending 10 minutes on hold to arrange a doctor’s appointment, sad that your mother is looking so old and frail, scared that your dog is about to undergo surgery, worried about an error you made at work two days ago, or nervous that your partner won’t care for his/her very expensive birthday gift.
It may sound exhausting, this keeping of emotions under constant surveillance, but it will get easier with time and practice, and after a while they’ll reach out to you so that you won’t have to chase them down. You’ll start to get messages from your heart that you feel valued or neglected, proud or ashamed, engaged or bored, delighted or dismayed. You’ll need only be open to the fact that your heart regularly spits out bulletins of information. Knowing what you’re feeling will increase your self-trust and confidence in decision-making—and, oh yes, it will help you become a “normal” eater.