Many disregulated eaters believe it’s healthy to fully experience emotions, but fervently wish they didn’t have to put themselves through the discomfort. They don’t understand the positive rewards that come from connecting with feelings, not only with eating but in life. If they did, they’d put up with the pain for the abundant gifts that will come their way.

One of the biggest complaints I hear from clients is that they “dislike” feeling certain emotions—confusion, disappointment, loneliness, grief, helplessness. Oddly, they seem to have an affinity for guilt and shame, but that’s another story. If you look at emotional pain as annoying and unnecessary, you’re missing the point. Life has pain and life has pleasure, and we need humility to recognize that we don’t get to choose as if we’re perusing a dinner menu. Pain and pleasure are the only options when we sit at life’s table. Perhaps the child in you wants to see if it can get away with avoiding uncomfortable emotions, while the adult knows that’s not possible but doesn’t speak up.

You’ll have to read my FOOD AND FEELINGS WORKBOOK to receive a more complete tutorial on the purpose and function of emotions, but for now let’s say that all of them are not supposed to fun and cozy. They exist to give you information and strength to get you through life. Without a rich inner world, you end up craving external meaning and rewards, but they can always be taken away from you. With depth and breadth of emotions, you have the base of what you need to live well—self-knowledge and, by understanding yourself, a knowledge of others. Literature, art, and music all mean more because you connect with them on a feelings level. Every minute of every day is brighter, fuller and more intense when you can feel whatever arises.

When you are comfortable with emotions, you never fear what life will bring. You know that whatever comes your way will be a variation of something you’ve already felt and won’t need to pull your head out of the sand and say, “Oh, but I never thought that would happen to me.” You’ll take emotional pain as it comes and watch it go, knowing that in some form it will return and leave again. When you get used to the pattern, it simply weaves its way in and out of your life. But the very best thing about tolerating and experiencing any and all feelings is that you can go anywhere in your psyche and have no need to shy away. There’s nothing like this freedom to know in complete confidence that you can handle whatever emotions come your way. You don’t have to shut out your own thoughts or other’s words or actions that bring discomfort because you’ve felt it all before in one form or another. But you have to earn this kind of freedom.