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We Are All Horrible People: A Note on Obsession and Emotional Eating

In a recent session, I discovered I kept saying, “I’m worried I will feel jealous.”  My coach asked, “Are you sure you aren’t already jealous?” Well…yes.

This past year, I have been using coaching to free myself from my emotional addiction to food. I am aware that people with addictions are running from feelings, so it is important for me to discover just how I do that, and which feelings I run from.  As it turns out, I run from all of them! In my misguided attempts to be a perfect person–always kind, always generous, always a leader–I run from any feeling I deem to be unflattering or dark. And by running, I mean swallowing it down with anything I can get my hands on…

I’m sharing this because I really, truly, had myself convinced that I didn’t harbor many of these feelings (like jealousy and the desire to strike-down people who hurt me with an arsenal of insults ).  I convinced myself that I was enlightened, beyond it, “the bigger person.”  Relax a little, because here’s the great news–IT”S IMPOSSIBLE TO NEVER FEEL BAD FEELINGS.

We’ve talked before about not labeling feelings as “good” or “bad” and just as “feelings.”  I shared exercises and questions to help you “notice” these feelings in order to work through them. Noticing is not easy.  Some of us are experts in self-subterfuge. I had completely tricked myself into thinking that “worrying I would” feel a certain way was different from actually feeling it.  The “worry” (and anxiety that comes with it) was easier for me to accept than the reality—I am angry, jealous, and want revenge.

Typing this makes my throat hurt.  Honestly, I’ve been swallowing many things I have chosen not to say, in favor of keeping a friend or letting a person learn their own lesson, that my throat gets hot and itchy when I think about things unsaid.  My nature is to communicate my feelings, and when I can’t, I bury them in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.

Once, a very close friend off-offhandedly said “You’ve always been obsessed with how you look.”  Whoa!  I still allow this comment to smash around in my head, and it loves to pop up from time to time when I’m especially vulnerable.

But how do you distance yourself from your feelings? I don’t feel better after a binge.  What does it look like when you are hiding from the truth? Let me share with you the EXACT process of distancing myself from the feelings of this statement about my “obsession”:

1. Ouch! How could she say that?  I’ve felt nothing but ugly. People obsessed with their looks are vain. I don’t want to ever even look at myself. I’m the opposite of vain.

2. I should let it go.

3. People have been telling me how fat I am my whole life. She knows that. How can she hold that against me? How can I not think about it when it’s always in my face?

4. What I really need is support. I’m working really hard.

5. She’s just jealous that I’m working so hard to make a change. She doesn’t want me to change. She’s afraid to change herself.

6.  If I say something about my feelings, she won’t hear it. We’ve had other conversations where she’s twisted my words into something else.  It’s not worth losing a friend.

7. How sad for her. I’m the bigger person. She’s lucky to have me as a friend.

8. Good thing I’m tough. People must know I can “handle” being talked to in that way.

9. I’m glad people feel so comfortable with me, they can say whatever they want.

Can you feel the anxiety building?  Make sure to imagine this list on repeat, over and over again. All of this crazy, circle-talk takes the heat off what I feel and places it on the other person. I step farther and farther away from the hurt and anger and sadness that I feel. During this self-conversation, I am probably also eating whatever is in front of me. Imagine if this is the reaction to every time a negative feeling crops up. For emotional eaters, this is often the case.

So what’s the alternative?  Roll around in my anger and hurt? What a misery-guts!?  

GO FOR IT!  Feel it. Roll around in it.  Excuse yourself from public if you need to. All those “horrible” feelings are there in all human beings. Our capacity to have a myriad of feelings is what makes us such wonderful beings. After you’ve been there for a bit, minutes or days, when you are ready to move forward, there will be a discovery. From the example statement, I discovered: how angry I am at my friend for being so supportive of me when I needed help, how lonely I feel, and that I am actually very sensitive.  I also see what other truth there can be in the word “obsession.”

Geneen Roth writes, “The risk in breaking free from obsession is the risk in believing in yourself enough to say: “Okay. It’s true. I’ve spent all these years dieting and being unhappy about my weight. And although it seems almost absurd to think that I would purposefully not lose weight (it’s been such a battle and I’ve wanted to lose weight so much), I am willing to consider that possibility.”  The obsession protects us from the feelings—from being a “horrible” person.

Now can I move past this?  I’m closer.



There are HORRIBLE people living in all of us. There is darkness just as there is light. To ignore the dark, or not label it as such, makes it easier for us to distance ourselves from it. Get to know that “horrible person.” Shake hands, go for coffee together, listen to all the horrible things that come out in conversation until the horrible person starts to melt away.  After all, that horrible person deserves to be heard.

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