Why You Can't Ignore Your Feelings For Recovery: Part 1

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Alternative title of this post could have been “Why feelings are the MOST important part of your recovery”.

If you are reading this you are either struggling with an eating disorder or have some curiosity about an eating disorder, and what it takes to recover.  Eating disorder… feelings?? You might be wondering what the two have to do with each other and the answer is EVERYTHING.

Almost all eating disorder behaviors are caused by feelings. Briefly let’s talk about what feelings are. Feelings are both somatic (felt in the body) and psychological (we have thoughts about them), they often have an action tendency, and they are very subjective. Everyone’s experience of a feeling is unique to them. When you experience anxiety it might feel differently than how your best friend, or anyone else experience’s anxiety.

Feelings are felt in your body, and they often cause a behavior. For someone with an eating disorder it looks like this: you get in an argument with your friend. You feel anger, guilt, sadness, during and after the argument. But, maybe, you aren’t aware of these feelings, or they are very uncomfortable, or both. You’re not sure what to do to make yourself feel better so you end up binging on chocolate cake because that makes you feel instantly calm while you’re eating it and it also puts you in a food coma state, otherwise known as completely numb so you don’t feel any of those uncomfortable feelings anymore. Sound familiar?

In order to not use eating disorder behaviors you have to be willing to experience your feelings. This is HARD. We are taught that any time we feel bad or uncomfortable we should do something to change it or make it go away.  Had a tough day… have a drink! Going through a breakup… ice cream helps with that. Feeling anxious about a presentation at work… take a Xanax. Feeling sad today… just think positively. It’s like we are literally intolerant to feeling anything except a pleasant feeling.  But feelings are the most basic part about being a human! All feelings are important. And trying to change them or make them go away by using eating disorder behaviors causes you to feel even worse.

Let’s use our example above about the argument with your friend. After the argument you feel anger, guilt, and sadness. Then you binge on chocolate cake. Do your feelings of anger, guilt, and sadness go away? Perhaps temporarily while you are eating the cake. But the moment you are done eating the feelings come back. But now it’s not only about the argument you had, but it’s also about the binge. The guilt, shame, sadness, and anger you feel at yourself for using your eating disorder to cope. Not to mention that you still have to deal with your feelings from your argument. Those haven’t gone away, you just can’t feel them in the moment because your feelings about the binge are overpowering anything else you’re feeling.

If this sounds at all familiar to you, I get it. I have been in your shoes. I had no idea how to feel my feelings prior to my recovery. It was only when I finally had enough of my eating disorder and using behaviors to numb myself that I got down and dirty about allowing myself to feel, or as I like to say “feel better” aka be better at feeling!.

In order to not use my behaviors anymore I had to learn how to feel. And this is what we work with clients on every day at Omni.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog post about how to start allowing yourself to feel which is a daunting process, especially when you’ve numbed yourself for years. But feeling your feelings is one of the most integral parts to recovery.