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Releasing Tension to Decrease Mindless Eating

Do you eat to relieve tension? Maybe you call it by another name—stress, distress, anxiety, feeling antsy. Whatever you call it, the truth is that you don’t need to eat to release tension. By switching your view of it, you can reduce mindless eating.

You may feel tension in the construct we call the mind. Your thoughts race, your self-talk stokes the fires of pressure building and building, and your head feels as if it’s going to explode unless you do something. Equally, tension may arise in your body. You may feel as if you can’t sit still, that you just gotta move. Your shoulders, neck or back may feel tight and even tender and sore. Under this kind of pressure, you may tell yourself that only food will make you unwind and feel better.

Did you ever stop to think what this tension might be about? My guess is that it’s residual pressure from the day or from an incident that just happened that you’ve let build up. And so you tell yourself you can’t stand it any more and insist that you need to eat to relieve what you’re feeling. In fact, you’ve developed the habit of using food to reduce this pressure so that you’ve come to believe that it’s the only activity that works.

Most dysregulated eaters view tension as uncomfortable and as something they shouldn’t be feeling or need to feel and, consequently, want to get rid of it. Well, it’s true, feeling stressed isn’t fun, but what if you looked at bodily tension as a natural part of life? Things happen and our body-mind reacts. What if you didn’t view this tension as unbearable, something you hate, something you must stop feeling immediately?

When the kettle whistles due to a process of water boiling, you don’t think of it as a negative occurrence. You can learn to think of body-mind tension the same way. It’s something that happens to all of us. If you say to yourself, “Oh, I’m tense. Guess I’ve been under a lot of stress” or “Something has been building up to cause what I’m experiencing,” in neutral words and a calm tone, you won’t feel a need to rush off and obliterate the feeling. You can remind yourself that sitting quietly will release the tension naturally or do something that’s a bona fide tension releaser, like move your body.

It’s the meaning you assign to mind-body tension that triggers mindless eating, not the tension itself. If you start thinking of the tension is natural, it will often dissipate on its own. Be careful that what you tell yourself when you feel internal pressure doesn’t make it worse. Remind yourself that tension comes, but that it also goes. Without eating.

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