Photo by James Coleman / Unsplash

A few words about stuffing our feelings, and perhaps a different way to consider the activity

Dear Saga Readers: Saga supporter and contributor Nurit Amichai, having just been utterly overwhelmed with Passover over in Israel, was kind enough to take time away from family to pen us some additional thoughts in response to a few of the questions that you had posed in your comments. Here is her input and mine at the end.

First, Nurit.

I recommend you revisit her site to again see who she is and what she does, and then read the below:

About Nurit Amichai | For The Health Of It
I thought that eating well, working out and doing what I knew were the right things for my body was the best I could do for myself, and in part, it was.

Here's what she wrote:

When we talk about emotional eating, the usual reference is in terms of negative emotions. However, emotional eating can be a reflection of positive emotions as well.  How many times have we eaten ourselves into a food coma when we've been celebrating something of a positive nature?  Not too often, I hope.  But, it happens.

We humans deal with life's challenges in different ways.  Some people stop eating when they get stressed out, anxious, or encounter painful episodes in their lives.  And, all of the people who are on the other end of the spectrum envy them.

Emotional eating is a symptom of things that go much deeper.  Emotional eating is something some of us do to cope with negative emotions ... we want to feel better, so we eat.  Yet, in many cases, emotional eating to soothe negative emotions can actually exacerbate them by adding the stress of guilt and shame that comes in the wake of overeating to compensate for something negative.  And then a cycle begins.

Sadly, most people arrive at a very unhealthy place before they're willing to recognize and own that they're eating reactively and need help dealing with the underlying issues that charge the action of emotional eating.  The trick lies in identifying what's going on before it gets out of hand.  

The best and maybe the only way to handle this is by spending the time necessary to become aware of oneself.  Knowing yourself is key to handling life. Period.  Once we are aware of how we react to stress, negativity, or for that matter happiness, we are better able to change tracks should things get out of hand. (those of you who read Karen Allison's story about dropping 120 lbs might recall that a goodly bit of the work she did was to ask some hard questions about the, why, what, when, where etc. about her eating, which is what I am hearing from Nurit, here- JH)

A couple of hours ago I arrived home from spending time with a new client who is very concerned about her weight prior to a mandatory surgery on her hip. She's 74 years old with about 30 pounds to lose before the beginning of June.  She recently lost her husband of 52 years and said the weight has appeared since his passing.

Emotional eating?  Ya think?  

She called me to help her and, during the course of our time talking about her life and health, I learned that she is, overall, a very disciplined person. What she lacks is accountability.  Someone to hold her to her commitment.  It would have to be a very aggressive program for her to lose 30 pounds in less than two months and trying to do that is not realistic (nor is it kind).  

What she needs is a place to express her pain, her grief, her feelings rather than feeding them and stuffing them down along with copious amounts of food.  As we make the adjustments to her daily diet, she'll have the opportunity to share whatever she wants or needs to share in order to let the pain out.  As that happens, I am pretty sure her need to stuff the pain down with food will diminish, as will her size. (bolded for emphasis-JH)


With many thanks again to Nurit for carving time out of her day for us.

You might recall that Nurit has quite a few certifications, which includes being a Life Coach. I am sure she won't mind if I point out- and I am sure that JennyB and Karen, who are both or have been fitness trainers as have I but not at that level, will agree- that this wholistic approach to looking a LIFE rather than a set of hips or a waist measurement is far more healthy.

First, it stops us from identifying solely as a body.

I'm going to leap sideways here for a sec and point out that modern medicine, motivated as it so often is by speed and profit, has stripped context away from the discussion with our providers. If we present as overweight or depressed or whatever is ailing us, HOW we got there is even more important than that we are there. Shoving a pill at us doesn't fix the abusive husband, the loss of a wife, or whatever is causing us so  much pain that we are eating ourselves to death, or drinking too much.

So, if we are going to heal, back to Nurit, then the far larger question is what on earth is going on that we, you, I reach for (in my case) yet another handful of cashews or that second slice of cake or whatever is the food of choice.

What am I feeding, particularly if I honestly am not hungry?

I had precisely this come home to mama talk with myself on Easter Sunday. While it helped to get a kickstart with a fourth booster which was so damned painful that I couldn't eat a damned thing all day Monday, by the time I hit the road for my conference on Tuesday I was feeling lighter for a day of fasting.

Jim S is a fan, as are many of you, of fasting, and so am I. I really do like the idea of no food after five, and waiting until late morning to eat something light. I was stuck in a conference where "good food" was pulled pork. Um, no. So glad I had a big bag of apples along, which is what I survived on for three days. That wasn't planned. However, by today, when I could finally wrap myself around a nice bowl of chicken soup up here in Canada, my tummy had shrunk appreciably, and so had my need to do the one-armed lift of (whatever) to my mouth.

But there was another reason, and it was two-fold. First, I was immersed in a conference of several hundred people. I had a ball, met tons of new folks and found ways to add value to people who really could use my expertise. Met brand-new friends and got incredibly excited about podcasting.

Second, I found a niche that I can expand my business around while also adding more value to even more people. Those two things gave me great pleasure, and more than that...

for the first time in a long time I didn't feel lonely.

This morning I was on the road to Nelson, BC at about 5:30. As the sun came up I called my fellow early riser Dr. Rosenna Bakari, and we chatted a bit about the dance so many seem to be doing with weight under Covid.  

We laughed at how Covid seems to be the default excuse for everything. Not for me; I was feeding my loneliness. There is something wonderful about naming what is irritating you, because that allows a path forward. Dr. Bakari speaks and writes and consults with sexual trauma survivors and she knows exactly what emotional eating is and isn't, and how trauma is expressed in the body.

Even if we aren't such survivors, once you and I have reached a goal, is no guarantee we get to stay there.

As a one-time pilot, and anyone who has ever flown left or right seat can attest, life is a constant series of course corrections. The destination for all of us is identical: we all move on. In the meantime, the successes we enjoy, Karen with her 120 lbs, Linda with her 28, Jim with his whole-body makeover, Randy with his training program, all of us with our various stories like Penny with her new-f0und strength, we fall off, we get up, we keep going, we fall again, we get up.

We all get blown off-course. Which is why every so often I remind myself that when I say that I've kept the weight off for 35 years all I can really say is "so far." Conditions change, life changes, bodies change, and sometimes damn it, we really do want that warm cookie with the ice cream (yeah I did, with Sonja in Depoe Bay).

I hadn't gained weight in 35 years. Still hadn't put on much, but what I realized was that appearance of weight had nothing to with hunger per se or age, but hunger for company, and the need to be of use to people. Living in a great big gorgeous (empty) house these past two years has been a real challenge in ways I'd not expected.

As women find themselves alone late in life like Nurit's client, as I did, as so many of us age into isolation or society heaps scorn onto our greying noggins, we can feel as though our value is stripped. That means that like Nurit, we have to create a path forward wherein we make ourselves priceless to people who really do need us for the wisdom, knowledge, expertise and above all the love and empathy we have to offer.

And, as with all course corrections, trying to figure out what on EARTH is causing me to make repeated trips to the cashew container has been filled with frustration as well as humor.  It took me a while-especially given the lack of events and gatherings-before I realized that what I missed most were my speaking engagements, the business gatherings, the networking events, especially where folks were gaining benefit from whatever I'd cooked up for them.

The greater discipline perhaps, not so much the so-called "legendary discipline" one researcher wanted to know about, is far more that you, we are able to watch what we do, refrain from what Nurit points out above as the guilt and shame we heap upon ourselves for falling off the wagon as it were, and ask the far harder questions of what we really, truly need.

If you've read my material for a while, you know that this has not been a particularly easy life. I told a friend recently that if I were to walk down that path of addressing how it feels to be alone at this point, with nothing more than an aged teddy bear and a few pillows to curl up with at night, I don't come back. That way lies madness.

However, there are a thousand thousand ways to find company, even in a pandemic-potholed world, and to find purpose and joy and laughter. I just had a week full of it. Came away inspired and energized (more on that later) and a new direction where I can combine all my expertise AND my adventure travel chops.

And be useful.

One reason I admire Nurit so much is that she is doing such powerful healing work, and at 75 and going very strong, she has built a practice which takes into account the life spheres which so many coaches tend to ignore. We are not our bodies, although our bodies speak to our emotional burdens. They are eloquent.

So, food for thought. I am sitting in the lovely Dancing Bear Hostel on Baker Street in Nelson, BC, about fifteen minutes from bedtime. No cashew nuts in sight. More stories than I know what to do with in my queue.

Colours of the Wind
Photo by Diana Simumpande / Unsplash

And a wonderful way forward. I hope that Nurit's observations and this discussion engenders more input from all of you.