A friend who is currently experiencing freedom from years of struggle with overeating recently told me her new motto is, “Eat when you’re hungry and feel what you feel when you’re not hungry.”* This sums up well two key factors in experiencing God’s grace in the face of the desire to cope with emotions through eating. Food is meant to satisfy physical hunger, not emotional need. Emotions are meant to be expressed, not stuffed or “medicated” by eating.
But this motto is only workable if you understand how God has provided for your emotions through expression to, and transparency with, Him. God invites us to boldly go to the throne of grace in time of need, and a number of the biblical psalmists were completely transparent with their anger, doubt, fears, shame, hatred, and disappointments—even disappointments with God and doubts about His character. (See Hebrews 4:16 and Psalms 51, 55, and 73—and many other passages in Psalms.)
When you honestly express your emotions to your Savior – and when you are willing to see how He is providing for you in ways you may not have recognized – there can be actual resolution to the thinking that is causing emotional stress and pain. When you cope with painful emotions by eating to distract or “stuff,” you never address the underlying thoughts and beliefs, but only postpone or suppress the inevitable emotional turmoil.
Turning to the Lord with your true thoughts and emotions makes it much, much easier to eat in response to physical hunger. In fact, you will start to discover that when actually feeling your feelings – being honest with yourself and with God about them – you really cannot think about food at those times. The food will be less and less helpful to you as a coping mechanism and can start taking its rightful place as a source of nourishment and enjoyment when you need fuel.
*After I posted this, my friend told me she got her motto from author Geneen Roth. For more information, see www.geneenroth.com. Please note that I do not endorse Ms. Roth’s theology; however, her insights into a no-dieting approach to emotional overeating are helpful.