Emptiness is both a physical sensation and an emotion and is somewhat difficult to describe because of its nature—it’s easier to describe something than its absence. However, understanding underlying issues about and resolving discomfort with both types of emptiness will go a long way toward helping you recover from eating problems.
Let’s tackle physical emptiness first, the sensation in your belly when you’re hungry—the gnawing, gurgling, and mild contractions telling you it’s time to fuel up. How you feel about this emptiness and how you respond to these sensations makes all the difference. If you perceive stomach emptiness as welcoming and as an invitation to feed your body pleasurably, you’re all set. For you, emptiness is a natural state which can be responded to with food and eating is a self-enhancing act. On the other hand, if you view physical emptiness as dangerous or scary, how will you move on to eat with pleasure and toward a goal of satisfaction? If you see stomach emptiness as unnatural, you will likely respond with anxiety and be anxious feeding yourself.
Now, let’s look at emotional emptiness—the sensing of an internal void, a vacuum, a unfilled space (in your head? your heart? your belly?) that you believe is not okay as is but which you need to fill up. This state, too, may make you anxious. If emotional emptiness is perceived as unnatural and a state which must be altered, it can make you antsy and fidgety, it can make you impulsive. Worse, it can cause you to feel suicidal, as if the emptiness inside you, the nothingness, makes you an empty vessel, a nothing.
How you view emptiness determines what you do when you are in that emotional feeling state. Take a minute and consider your reactions to the word emptiness. Let it roll around on your tongue and settle into your mind and heart. What scares you about it? What would happen if you allowed yourself to experience it rather than abuse food? Are your beliefs about physical and emotional emptiness healthy and rational or unhealthy and irrational? Do they serve your best interests, especially in recovering from eating difficulties, or are they a part of the problem? If the latter, reframe irrational beliefs and put emptiness in a positive light.
Coming to terms with both physical and emotional emptiness is a prerequisite to overcoming your eating problems. Remember, emptiness should not be scary. Instead, you can learn to welcome emptiness as a state that allows you to physically and emotionally fill yourself up with the best life has to offer.