Have you ever had an argument that made you feel very angry and, automatically, you found yourself grabbing a bag of cookies or a tub of ice cream, or a glass of wine?
What if I told you that your weight issues have much more to do with your unprocessed feelings (like anger) than with diet and exercise?
When anger arises, some people scream or become violent; others stay quiet and push it down, and some others, especially women, eat.
Why is that?
Women usually have a hard time expressing anger. In our society, fighting back and speak up when upset are still seen as unacceptable behaviors for ladies. For this reason, most women end up bottling their anger up and, in many cases, literally swallow it with the help of food.
Sugar, especially, has a strong effect on serotonin production, which is a hormone that regulates both emotions and the impulse of eating. The production of serotonin is also what most drugs for anxiety and depression act on. So, emotional eating can really be a sort of self-medication.
Food also works as a distraction because it masks the uncomfortable feelings. Although this "benefit" is very short-lived, as after eating, other emotions arise, like guilt, shame, and self-hatred.
This kind of behavior, eating as an attempt to push down undesired feelings, is not an enjoyable activity, and you might not even notice the taste of what you're putting in your mouth. Consequently, it will create a more stress response, affecting your digestion, absorption of nutrients, and burning calorie capacity.
The truth is that anger is a natural emotion that everyone experiences, and there's nothing wrong with it. The harm comes when you're not able to express it in a constructive way and get attached to it and to the story that has created it. This makes it very hard to let go of it.
“When emotions are expressed…all systems are united and made whole. When emotions are repressed, denied, not allowed to be whatever they may be, our network pathways get blocked, stopping the flow of the vital feel-good, unifying chemicals that run both our biology and our behavior.”
Suppressed and stored anger is very harmful to the body as it puts it under an incredible amount of stress. This is because anger, like any other emotion, needs to flow!
If you suspect you often eat because you're angry or frustrated, what can you do about it?
The first step toward using anger well is to assess how you deal with it now. After all, we could all benefit from understanding and managing our anger better. But that takes a bit of introspection and practice. Below are suggestions that can help you get started.
When you notice anger arising, remember you have a choice! You can stop and leave the room; you can even do it politely and excuse yourself to go to the toilet! Once you're in a safe space, bring your attention to your body, it could be your breath, your feet, or even your belly. Let the story in your mind aside for a moment. This is very important as the story you tell yourself makes you holding on to the feeling and prevents it from flowing! Now let the body guide you to the movement you need to make that anger flow. You might feel the need to take a walk or run, do some yoga, dance, or shake it. Whatever your body suggests will be good.
When you feel better, if you still feel the need to vent about what happened, you could call a friend and talk about it. Talking about the whole thing helps the movement of anger in the body and will also help you to get some perspective.
Another option is to write about your anger. It helps you acknowledge and begin to understand it, says James W. Pennebaker, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Texas. "Ask yourself in writing what makes you angry in a certain situation or toward a certain person. That process helps undermine the anger both psychologically and physiologically.
Other ways to cope with feelings of anger include relaxation and mindfulness techniques like yoga and meditation and positive therapeutic techniques, such as forgiveness and gratitude practice, that can help free you from painful or negative experiences.
Anger is a normal feeling. Expressing it in a healthy manner is an important part of life. Next time you get angry, try one of these suggestions and see if you can let go of anger more quickly, and not engage in destructive patterns when you get angry.