How to express yourself when you’re hurt or angry (instead of eating chocolate)

how to express angerWhat to do instead of eating when you are hurt or angry

You’re resolved. It’s time to stop stuffing your feelings down with food you aren’t really hungry for. You’re ready to take control of emotional eating and stop fighting with food and weight all the time. No more evenings of overeating after a stressful day of work. No more drive-thru trips to curb your frustration with your mother-in-law. This is the end of drowning your sorrows in carbs when the world isn’t cooperating or your husband is driving you nuts.Sounds like a plan right?

With one fatal flaw (usually). The plan I hear usually goes something like this:

I’ll be upbeat and positive, I won’t let them get to me, I’ll have a great attitude and I won’t lose my cool. I’m not going to let those things bother me….”

Uh oh.

You’re trying to create a better relationship with food and stop overeating—not become a superhero. The reality is, we all have feelings, and not all of them are pretty and graceful and loving. No matter what you eat or how and when you do it, you’ll still get pissed off and feel hurt and betrayed and frustrated and even (gasp) enraged at times.

You. Are. Human. Humans have feelings.

Uh oh.

I’m no good at getting mad.”
“I look ridiculous when I’m upset—I always burst into tears, I can’t think straight and I can never make my point.”
“Nobody listens anyway.”
“I feel stupid, like I’m making a big deal out of something I shouldn’t. I shouldn’t let this stuff bother me.”

But it does.

The first step is approaching your emotions with respect—this is the way you feel right now. Practice giving yourself permission to have those feelings—no matter how ugly they may be. Breathe and feel.

That’s it.

Here are some other steps to take:

Start by expressing your feelings to yourself.

Honest and uncensored. Your thoughts and feelings won’t hurt anybody. Journaling is a great tool. Keep it private and just write. No worries about punctuation or spelling or even logic. Just download your feelings. This works best when you practice doing it on a regular basis. An added bonus of regular journaling is that you are more likely to be aware of difficult feelings or situations earlier on because you are paying attention to how you feel.

If you’re too agitated for writing, start moving.

Walk and think or head to the gym or your favorite trail. Give your mind and body permission to mull things over.

Give yourself the gift of time.

In many situations, you don’t have to express your feelings on-the-spot. If you aren’t sure how to respond or you feel overwhelmed by your emotions, give yourself time to process, to calm down, and to think. Here’s a great line, “I’m not sure how I feel about this, but something feels off. I need to come back to this when I’ve had some time to digest it.”  That’s the polished version. In a pinch, excuse yourself to go to the bathroom or have a coughing fit and take a minute to drink some water. Time, even a few breaths, helps you engage your brain so you can think and feel.

Own your point of view.

If you aren’t already, get in the practice of using “I statements”—“I feel” “I think” “I believe.”
These go over much more smoothly than “You statements” which can feel like an attack and create a defensive, bristling response. Just consider, “You never finished that report and now look at what I have to deal with” compared to “I’m frustrated about the situation with the report and I’d like to talk about what happened.” Here’s a challenge for you. Even if you think you are an expert at using I statements, do a double check on whether you are using them in tough emotional situations. This is usually a skill that can be improved upon.

Focus on expressing yourself, not changing the other person.

This may help you stick with I statements. It’s not up to you whether the other person changes or responds to what you are saying. What you have control over is what you express. Consider what your agenda is. Do you want something to change or be different? Are you asking for some kind of compensation or empathy? Is it simply important to be heard? Would you like to be understood? If you have a request or a proposal to make, the clearer you can be on what it is, the clearer you will be in communicating it.

Be easy on yourself.

This is hard stuff. Please, if you can help it, don’t start expressing your feelings in the most difficult situations first.  Start trying out new skills where it feels safest and the stakes don’t feel so high. If you are with someone you trust and feel safe with, don’t be afraid to tell the truth: “This is hard for me.”
If you start to feel overloaded, allow yourself a time out (remember the bathroom trick) and return when you are calm enough to proceed.

Pave the way.

Make an announcement to someone you trust (or write it in your journal). Starting today, I’m going to be working on the habit of communicating my feelings more directly so you may be hearing me talk more about being upset or hurt or sad or angry. This is something that’s hard for me to do but I want to get better at it.
Let me know how it goes.
Take good care,
Dr. Melissa



Would you like more help and personal attention with your emotional eating issues and developing effective strategies for handling your feelings? Here are some options for more personalized help and private coaching.

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