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What Is a Felt Sense?


Here are some of my recent musings on noticing enoughness or feeling something isn’t enough. With food, we talk about the terms and sensations of fullness and emptiness. Sometimes our stomachs growl and we recognize we’re hungry or feel sickeningly full when it’s uncomfortably distended. Of course, sometimes we sense but ignore signals of hunger and satiation. And, what of the times we don’t even realize our body is giving off cues about wanting food or being done with it? 

These last two reactions indicate a disconnection from self. I remember binge-eating and feeling stuffed only after the fact. Where was my attention when I was fast approaching and had reached fullness? How could I miss this major body event? 

Here's how. I was aware and also unaware, unplugged from my appetite cues during the binge. I’d also unplugged myself from whatever was making me want to consume so much food that I knew I’d throw it all up afterward. This is what is meant by not having a felt sense, a process Geneen Roth calls “going unconscious.” You can’t feel what is going on inside you. You either don’t have access or have it and don’t use it. You’re dead to feelings and they’re dead to you; appetite signals are non-existent. Fortunately, this isn’t a permanent condition, just a learned response from earlier experiences.

Before mindfulness became popular as an (excellent) approach to connecting to self, Sheila M. Reindl wrote Sensing the Self: Women’s Recovery from Bulimia in 2001. Although I was long recovered from my decades of bingeing and two years of purging, I found the book enlightening because it got right to the core of one of the major causes of eating disorders: a disconnect from self that can be corrected.

The book has few reviews (I added mine) and is expensive, but you can buy it used. I found it disturbing that some reviewers complained about the seriousness of the book. Really? Bulimia is a very serious subject, so why not a serious antidote in book form? The concept of sensing the self is core, central, and intrinsic to eating—and living—well.

If you want to grow skilled at sensing whatever’s going on inside you (be it physical or emotional), you’ll need to do two things: pay attention to every emotion and body cue and start listening for them. I swear they’re there if you seek them out. It may take a while to fully feel what you’re sensing most of the time: fatigue, discomfort with others, hunger, boredom, fullness, dread, overstimulation—all of ‘em—but when you do, life will be more enjoyable and satisfying, and so will food.