Embodiment: The surprising tool to help you stop comfort eating

Bessel van der Kolk said, “You can be fully in charge of your life, only if you can acknowledge the reality of your body, in all its visceral dimensions.” - The Body Keeps The Score


Here, I'm going to introduce you to how to quit emotional eating, by becoming more aware of your internal body experience.

In my work, you'll hear me guide you to how something feels in your body. Because, I witness over and over again that it's a powerful route to healing, on a deeper level. Getting in touch with your instincts, drives and needs leads you to treat yourself with more care, and to experience more satisfaction.

But, being in touch with your body, is particularly hard for the comfort eater, who generally has much hatred for their body, and is disconnected from internal experience.

The culture and society (that many of us are in) encourage us to be quiet about feeling vulnerable.

It's also human nature to avoid pain and discomfort. This may be a survival instinct. But, we have a habit of turning away from ourselves. Especially if we use substances to manage emotion, and to comfort ourselves with.

Yet, 'embodiment' is essential to recovery because it's the source of inner resource and strength.

The body is also where the unconscious lives. Little gestures that we make, our posture, the way we breathe – all of these reveal some part of what we believe, think and need.

Embodiment is a process of becoming more self-aware so that you can address the underlying reasons why you do something. This can heal the long-standing wounds and pain that live in your body, and in the unconscious.

Recovery through embodiment happens in approximately these four stages:

  1.  Becoming aware/sensing your body's experience.
  2. Naming and labelling the sensations and feelings.
  3. Bringing compassion and honour to your experience.
  4. Redirecting your body energy to something more positive or resourceful.

Becoming aware/sensing your body's experience

Rather than trying to ignore the anxiety, you are encouraged to acknowledge it in your body.

To be interested in where it actually is, and what it feels like physiologically.  

Woman stepping over gap

Naming and labelling the sensations and feelings

Sometimes just staying with a feeling, or naming it, calms the nervous system, and helps it to shift. It is often the fear of the feeling, rather than the feeling itself, that is the difficulty.  

Bringing compassion and honour to your experience

Understanding and bringing compassion to what a feeling wants, and meeting that need, is the most important and pivotal skill for the comfort eater to learn. Your feelings always have a message. Uncomfortable feelings like frustration, irritation, upset, hurt, worry and shame are always pointing to what you care about in life. They are also what needs compassion, and possibly deep healing. So, this is entirely missed through comfort eating.

It sounds counterintuitive, but it's actually really helpful, to complete something called 'support the defence'. This is where if you feel resistant to something, you might need to allow and get curious about your block, before you can remove it.  

For example, if you want to avoid practising mindfulness, you might think it takes hard work. On exploration, you might see that you'd much rather rush around cleaning the house, or sit down and watch TV, with chocolate or snacks. On further exploration, you might realise that you need to let go and relax, but you're afraid that you won't be able to do that. This might be because it will put you in touch with how you feel, which you're scared of. 

It's the same with comfort eating itself. You need to understand, and be as kind as possible, to the fact that you want to eat, before you can know how, or exactly what, to stop.

All of this deserves compassion and understanding. It's often once we've done that, that the block melts away, and we're able to choose a more healthy option, or to be brave enough to do something different.

Redirecting your body energy to something more positive or resourceful

Exaggeration is one example of resourcing. You can exaggerate a critical voice until it is ridiculed out of holding so much meaning.   
Having a dialogue between your kind adult and your inner child is another resourcing tool.
Taking your mind to a safe place or person and feeling/embodying that experience is another way resource.

An example from my life of embodied transformation

I recently made a big financial decision for my business, and I woke up one night feeling terrified.

  • Step one. I observed it. I explored the intensity of feeling in my body. I had a tightness in my stomach/belly, and was breathing shallowly. Furthermore, I was feeling slightly manic.
  • Step two. I started to explore what the fear was about, and what it really wanted. What was I actually afraid of? Here, I found that I was afraid of failing.
  • Using some of the resources I've mentioned in previous articles, I brought my nervous system back down. I used mindfulness/calming/ slowing down, and listened to a helpful audio.
  • Step three. I started to bring compassion to it, by allowing it to be OK that I was scared, and by giving that some time. I started to look after the teenager inside me that had seen my Mother fall into self-employed bankruptcy. This had made my Mother very ill. I had the belief that failure and ill health were inevitable. No wonder I was afraid! 
  • Step four. I realised by doing this, that I am not my Mother. I have access to so many more inner and external resources than she had in her life. So, I reminded myself of the support I have, and I researched for more support. I decided to use the physical energy I was carrying in this fear and excitement by challenging how I felt, and embracing my decision. I decided to enjoy it. Maybe even to have fun with it. So, my belief started to change. Possibilities opened up. I then channelled this energy into actually doing something. 

It felt good! You can do this too. 

Today, I've talked about starting to see yourself and your defences as something to explore and be curious about, rather than to suppress or to fix. Healing from a lifetime of comfort eating is not a simple process. But it is possible through gradually getting in touch with what it is that you suppress about yourself. Through finding other ways to manage so that you can flourish as the person you were always meant to be. Embodiment is a powerful access route to that healing.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Bristol, Somerset, BS4 2DS
Written by Shelley Treacher, Therapy for anxiety, depression & relationship difficulties.
Bristol, Somerset, BS4 2DS

Shelley Treacher BACP Accred "Having experienced and overcome chronic worry, loneliness and comfort eating myself, I now empower you through the process. I support people from around the World through feeling anxious, unhappy, ashamed or unloved, with compassion, experience, knowledge, and a touch of humour."

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