Sitting with feelings

Anyone who followed my old Diet Schmiet blog or has read through many of the posts I transferred here* will know that binge eating has long been an issue for me. (Coming after anorexia nervosa and bulimia.)

I’m much better than I once was – I binge far less and am no longer even vaguely tempted to purge (too worried about the impact on my teeth and my health. But mostly my teeth!). Once upon a time I couldn’t have flour or sugar etc in the house cos – when in the zone – I’d mix up some strange batter to eat. I still don’t really keep sugar, but don’t think I’d do that nowadays. Plus – if I’m going to binge I prepare myself in advance.

My eating behaviour is not sufficiently normal that I can stock ‘danger’ or even ‘vaguely-interesting’ foods. As a result, stuff like chocolate, chips, corn chips, rice cakes, biscuits I really only buy with a binge (or immediate consumption) in mind. I’ve tried buying it ‘to have’ but I just can’t leave it alone.

Therapists generally suggest recognising when the desire to binge approaches (overcomes you!!!) and consider what’s led up to it. For me this can be about sadness, anger, guilt, stress or inadequacy. Sometimes just seeing something I like to eat will be a trigger – if I’m shopping and I see chocolate on special… there are no feelings, just the thought that ‘I should buy that’.

This all means that nowadays there’s sufficient time between my need to binge and my binge – cos… I have to go shopping. Sure sometimes I might eat endless amounts of real-type-food on hand, but – quite frankly – that’s never quite as fulfilling and doesn’t do the trick.

I’m obviously pretty good at recognising my desire to binge – so I’ve got that first step under control. It’s the next I struggle with, as it’s often suggested we ‘sit with our feelings’.


It occurs to me this is something often discussed more broadly (outside of disordered eating) and can relate to a range of reactionary behaviours. Once we recognise the feeling – rather than acting on it – we’re to sit and let it flow over us, think about how it feels. Etcetera.

I know – from reading others’ blog posts and the occasional self-help (type) books – that this works for some. I’ve had therapists who’ve basically said I’m ‘allowed’ to binge or eat (ie. act in the way I want) but I have to try sitting with feelings first… knowing I can act on my desires after.

Indeed, Leo Babauta’s latest Zen Habits’ post touches on this.

This is obviously something I’m yet to master. I’ve talked previously about needing to ‘live in the now’ more and get less rumpled by events of the past or stresses of the future – and I suspect many out there can relate. I’m just wondering if some people (ie. like moi) NEVER learn to NOT react.

Anyone else struggle with this (not necessarily in a food sense)?
Any hints or suggestions?

*As a complete aside, people may have noticed that all of my pics failed to transfer along with my blog posts. (Something I hadn’t realised when I closed Diet Schmiet!)

I’m flogging my blog With Some Grace today.


  1. So I take it that this is a delaying tactic – that you’ll let go of the urge while you’re sitting with your feelings? I can’t seen that that would have worked with me when I was bulimic. I could delay the binge and usually did until I had privacy but the delaying didn’t make me let go of it. It just made the urge stronger.

    • Char & Deb, it’s not necessarily about delaying but accepting the feelings, sitting with the uncomfortable and learning to understand that feelings aren’t good or bad, they just are. I’m by no means an expert, certainly not with eating disorders, but I work with and link in with people who specialise.

    • Sometimes delaying the urge does make me obsess about it even more… so I agree Char. But – I suspect it’s more about the feelings that cause the binge. (Something I’m obviously yet to conquer!)

  2. This is what came up in the last of my uni workshops, regarding “being”. Very much a Buddhist thing I think, and the basis of mindfulness. (I’m continually reminded that there’s nothing new, just new ways of looking at things.)

    Working with substance use disorders and addiction has a similar concept when talking about the craving, it’s like a wave that has an onset, peak & dissipation… So we talk about “riding the wave” or “riding the craving”. There’s also a diary with headings, most of which I suspect you’ve come across (and it’s in my drawer at work, so I can’t remember them all), but one is the cost. I’m wondering if that would be useful for you perhaps?


    • I think the worry for me (I mentioned in the response to Char) is that I have problems separating the feelings from the urge (or perhaps just dealing with the feelings), so once the idea (of chocolate or whatever) has popped into my head it’s hard to dislodge it. At the moment I’ve been waiting three days to buy chocky to make rocky road… Not sure I can delay it much longer but guess it’s progress that I didn’t rush out on Tuesday or Wednesday (or Thursday)!

  3. Sitting with my feelings, and labelling them, has been a huge part of my therapy….
    (working on bulimia and also self harm)
    It’s hard but I’m getting better at it!!!!

    Good luck!

  4. I think I have binge tendencies too Deb. I could sit and eat a whole big packet of corn chips or savoury biscuits. Often after I have a meal, I still feel hungry and like I could eat it all again or that I now need something sweet. What I do is choose NOT to react to these feelings immediately. As you say, I sit with them for a while … and I find that they pass. I soon do feel content and not still hungry and that need for a sweet treat has gone. So yes – I’m a believer in sitting with your feelings for a while. It can work! 🙂

    • Hmmm… sometimes my need for food-I-shouldn’t-eat just overtakes all else and I can think of nothing but. I lasted 3 or so days this time which was pretty good. Of course there are times I’ll go for ages without a big binge (over-eating not counting!).

      Speaking of which I like to think everyone has the occasional mindless binge and / or overeats at times.

  5. When I was about 16 I gave up my thrice weekly ballet lessons and hit puberty at the same time. Consequently i put on a fair amount of weight. My mother suggested a calorie controlled diet. It was after that I began binge eating (no purging) for the next 6 years. It was the deprivation that did it to me. At about 25 years of age I ditched dieting for good and the binges stopped. I guess there are lots of different triggers. I think I used to tell myself i could eat as much rubbish as I wanted but only after I’d eaten a heap of fruit of vegetables and then I’d be too full and the urge to binge would go away and that’s how I eventually kicked the obsession. It’s more difficult when feelings are involved I’m thinking 🙂

  6. I don’t find that sitting with my feelings works for me, although I do suspect that I tend to wallow rather than sit so I go too far the opposite way. One thing that I find helps with persistent thoughts is something I learned while doing Acceptance Commitment Therapy. I can’t remember the exact name for the technique but, you make the thought into a story to help take out the seriousness of the thought. It doesn’t need to be a novella obviously, and it can be as simple as ‘oh great here’s that binging story again’. I find it really helpful for the thoughts that seemingly come out of nowhere and catch me off guard. I like too that it doesn’t work on getting rid of the thought, which is something that I struggled with in CBT, but rather learning to live with it and accept that those thoughts are going to come.

    • That sounds interesting – as it would work with other thoughts I assume. I’m a huge catastrophiser and have been struggling with some other stuff lately that I really let get to me (hence my depressed Tuesday post!).

  7. I watched a documentary recently on ABC on kids with Tourette’s and they were teaching the kids to sit with the ‘tic’ before allowing it to occur. They timed how long they sat with the feeling for, then slowly increased it. It is all just practice and takes time and repetition. Lots of repetition. It is also impulse control. I am aiming to teach my autistic children this as they really struggle so this documentary was really interesting. Cause as you say, this concept can be generalised further out from binge eating.

    • Oh absolutely Sarah and I realise my bingeing is just a symptom of other stuff and the way I cope with other stuff. Trying to feel. Trying to NOT feel etc…

  8. This is really interesting Deb. I was definitely an emotional eater when I was younger – always on some diet or other which never helped things. I never really thought about sitting with my feelings. I just developed healthier eating habits as I got older and discovered how beneficial exercise could be (not until I was in my 30s mind you, it took a while).

  9. Rather than sitting with my feelings, I am learning how to actively feel and allow them without making them mean anything in particular. Another new concept for me is to both allow myself to feel the icky feeling AND have compassion for the part of me that is feeling it. It’s like I split myself into two: the part that feels, for example, shame, and the part that has compassion for the part that feels shame. And finally, rather than “sitting” I find that moving helps shift the feeling. Stamping my feet and pumping my arms works well 🙂

    • I actually suspect my body (not me!) missed exercise for that reason Karen. I remember how much I used to love my dance classes and I’d often arrive stressed and in a bad mood but by the end I was so full of joy…

      I mentioned in my responses to comments that I did – for a change – wait for a few days before I binged (yay!) but still binged. Perhaps being mindful about it is a success in itself. (?)

  10. I find I can sit with my feelings for so long, before I start the negative talk in my head. This then tends to undo all the good I’ve done, and I spiral out of control. As much a s I hate myself for overeating, I can’t stop sometimes, then feel like I “deserve” to be overweight.
    I’m finding that meditation and a lot of introspective time is starting to change my way of thinking, but it’s a tricky path.
    I think so many people struggle with this without even realizing it, Deb.

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