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Conquer Your Weight

Episode #14: Why Do Feelings Matter?

Show Notes

June 15, 2022

Today we are going to talk about feelings. If our feelings drive all of the actions we take in our lives, then understanding your feelings may just be the key to understanding why you are overweight.


Dr. Sarah Stombaugh: This is Dr. Sarah Stombaugh and you are listening to the Conquer Your Weight Podcast, episode number 14. Announcer: Welcome to the Conquer Your Weight podcast, where you will learn to understand your mind and body so you can achieve long-term weight loss. Here's your host, obesity medicine physician and life coach, Dr. Sarah Stombaugh. Dr. Sarah Stombaugh: Hey everyone, thank you so much for joining me today. Today we are going to talk about feelings and if you're thinking, Ugh, that's such soft stuff, how can I actually make an impact in my life? I want you to give me just 20 minutes today and I will show you how our feelings can have such a huge impact on the experience of our lives, including both how and why we choose to eat. Because everything in our life is driven by our feelings. We do things because of the way we are feeling or because of the way we want to feel, and it's not always a thought out or conscious effort, but whether it is or isn't, it's true. Nonetheless, you might smile at a baby because you want them to smile back and feel that joy. You might yell at another driver while you're driving because you're feeling angry and road rage. You might grab your favorite treat on the way to a job that you hate because you might as well feel a little bit of joy in your life, even if it's in the form of a grande caramel macchiato. One of the most powerful tools that life coaching has taught me is how to stop and acknowledge what emotion or feeling and I'm having. And for clarification, I use those two words, emotion and feeling interchangeably. So you hear me say both of those today because when you recognize what you're feeling, you have the power to see how you are acting from a place of experiencing that emotion and how it is a creating the results you're getting in your life before you even make steps towards changing your thoughts and feelings. Acknowledging your default is very powerful. You recognize how much control you have and even in times when you feel like you're out of control, you start to see that all of these thi these things are coming from just you and your brain and while at first that seems scary or a little bit of daunting, like this is all on you, it's actually really great news because it means that you're in charge and you can learn how to have control over your feelings. I remember back to my very coaching, very first coaching session. It was about a year, actually about two years ago now, and we had been talking through a situation at work and the thoughts I was having about that situation. The coach asked me how I felt and instead of answering with a feeling, I actually answered with sentences upon sentences of other thoughts that I was having, and she was kind. She allowed me to follow my human brain down this rabbit hole. But then she came back and redirected me to the same question. If you had to name a one word feeling that you're having as a result of this situation and your thoughts about it, what is that feeling? And I was literally speechless, like complete crickets. I couldn't come up with anything. I was not used to talking about my feelings, and even when I did talk or think about my feelings, I had a repertoire of like five different feelings that I could identify. So I was literally sitting there just sort of staring back at her trying to come up with a name for it. And she was an experienced coach, so she offered back to me a few suggestions. She said something like, sometimes when people are in the situation, they might feel discouraged or defeated or dissatisfied. And I'll be honest, I don't remember if those were the exact feelings she offered me, but it was three similar feelings to one another. And I remember my mind being totally blown because I had never really stopped to think about that depth of emotions before. As far as I was concerned, emotions like discouraged, defeated, dissatisfied, they were basically the same thing. Those words sounded like synonyms to me, and I don't think I recognized it then. But in retrospect, I've been able to reflect on my experience to different feelings and realize that discouraged, defeated, dissatisfied, they're indeed different emotions. And when I stop and think about feeling each of those feelings, there are nuances about each one that would set them apart and those feelings were offered in response to a situation I was dealing with at work. You can imagine that feeling discouraged, defeated, dissatisfied, may lead to different actions and results in your life depending on the person or depending on like what that means to them. Someone who is discouraged might start putting less effort into their work. Someone who's defeated might fantasize about quitting their job. Someone who is dissatisfied might tell if their boss. Each of us is going to have our own response to those feelings. And it's important to stop and recognize when you're having an action, where is that coming from? And even if feelings like discouraged, defeated, dissatisfied, might result in very similar actions for you, there's certainly going to be different actions than a person who is feeling joy or motivation or enthusiasm. In the life coach school, we are taught that our emotions are 50-50, 50% of our life is positive emotions and 50% of our life is negative emotions. And people get really caught up in this arguing the breakdown like, is it 60 40? Is it 80 20? Let me tell you, it doesn't really matter. What matters is that there are times where we feel positive emotions and there are times when we will feel negative emotions and that's okay, and that's normal. It's the full human experience to have all of these emotions, the good and the bad. And at a glance, we often make a mistake of wishing we were happy all of the time we're afraid of experiencing negative emotions. If you stop and really think about it though, it would be super weird to be happy all the time. Imagine that your loved one died and you felt happy. Imagine you made a huge mistake at work and you felt happy. Imagine your car broke down and you felt happy. All of those are weird, right? It's normal to feel negative emotions and they serve an important role in our lives. It is because of our negative emotions that we are able to fully appreciate our positive emotions. For example, knowing the grief of death allows us to fully embrace the feeling of love. The problem comes in though when we don't want to accept our negative emotions instead of allowing the negative emotions, we do anything to try to avoid it. Any behavior that you do in order to avoid feeling your negative emotion is called a buffering behavior. And buffering behaviors are often things like overeating over drinking, scrolling mindlessly through social media, overspending, gambling, porn, overworking, people pleasing, there's plenty of others as well. It's about a behavior that's done to escape the negative emotion. So let me give you a couple of examples. Imagine you've had a frustrating day at work. You come home and open a box of Oreos, it's been a difficult day and you deserve to feel good. So you eat one, and then you eat a few more. Suddenly you've eaten a dozen Oreos and you've numbed out that feeling of frustration or imagine that you're home with your children, they're bickering and it's driving you totally crazy. You yell at them a bit louder than you intended, and now you're feeling guilty. So you zone out by scrolling through social media and ignoring your children. On the other hand though, we can learn how to accept and process our negative emotions. We can sit them, we can work through them. And so I wanna go back to that Oreo example and the frustrating workday and how it could play out differently. So when we look at the buffering experience, you've had a frustrating workday, you ate a dozen Oreos in the moment, you got a quick hit of pleasure from the sweetness of the Oreos, and you were able to drown out or ignore the negative emotions from the workday. The problem is afterwards you're likely to be beating yourself up. I can't believe I just ate a dozen Oreos. There goes my diet today, and you might be physically uncomfortable. Ironically, when you turn to a buffering behavior, you usually end up feeling worse in the end, even if you don't recognize it right away, and you still haven't done anything to process that feeling of frustration. You've just ignored it and pushed it away. On the other hand though, we can practice feeling our emotions and allowing your emotions. So imagine that same frustrating day at work, and instead of turning to Oreos, you sit down and you feel the emotion. You close your eyes, you replay the day. You think about the frustrating moments, and you allow yourself to just sit there and feel frustration. You pay attention to what frustration feels like in your body. Maybe you feel a hot sensation in your chest and you just sit there and recognize it and breathe deeply and it will dissipate. You don't need the Oreos because the emotion dissipated all on its own. And it might come back. You might feel frustrated later in the evening, but you can do the same thing. You can stop, you can experience it and it will pass. And over time you will learn that frustration is just an emotion. It's no different than any other. And when that emotion feels less scary, you have less of an urge to escape the emotion. As such, you're not going to want to or need to turn to buffering behaviors like overeating Oreos. When you feel frustrated at work, and it sounds so easy, and it can be, but you're going to have to practice. It's if you're used to you know, avoiding these emotions and you've not had a chance to stop and feel your feelings, it's really going to take a little bit of time to get into that habit. And it's hard to feel your feelings if you can't even identify the feeling you're having in the first place. So sometimes it can actually be helpful to work backwards. So imagine that you're dealing with overeating as your behavior. That may be the case since you're listening to a weight loss podcast. So you found yourself in the kitchen, you've eaten a snack, or you're eating a snack even though you weren't really hungry. And this is where the hunger scale can be a good tool too, because when you utilize it, you can realize that there's times where you're eating that aren't hunger. And if you haven't had a chance to listen to the hunger Scale episode, go back to episode two and listen through that about food logging in the hunger scale. Okay, so come back to the kitchen. You're eating a snack. Maybe you've just finished eating a snack and you think to yourself, wow, I wasn't even hungry. I'm a plus one on the hunger scale. Or maybe dinner's in 30 minutes, I probably could have waited, or whatever the thought is that you're having, stop and ask why. What emotion was I experiencing that led to that eating? Did you eat because you walked through the kitchen and remembered snacks that you had in the pantry? So you were experiencing a feeling of desire for those snacks? Did you eat because you were bored? Did you eat because you were anxious or guilty or regretful or sad or angry? If you weren't hungry, why did you eat? Figuring out what emotions trigger our buffering behaviors can be a very helpful tool because you can learn the emotions that you're trying to avoid over time. You might find that one or two of your emotions are the driving factor behind your eating or overeating episodes. And when you find yourself experiencing those emotions, you can be on guard that this is an emotion you've worked hard to try to escape before, so you need to really pay attention so that you don't go into your default escape mode. And we're specifically talking about overeating, but the reality is this can apply to any of our buffering behaviors. Maybe you eat in some situations, but you drink in others, or you go shopping or you zone out with Netflix or social media. Other times the behavior might not seem so bad, but if it's still done from a place of trying to escape a negative emotion, it's a buffering behavior. So sometimes things like overworking or perfectionism or people pleasing or examples of that as well, and you might be asking, so what's wrong with a buffering behavior? If food makes me happy, then food makes me happy. Deal with it, Dr. Stombaugh. And a hundred percent you have the choice to eat food instead of feeling your emotions. But if you want to lose weight and your biggest source of happiness is food and you use food to cope with your negative emotions, then the process of losing and maintaining your weight is going to be absolutely miserable because you've removed your biggest source of happiness. And don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you can't enjoy your food because you absolutely should enjoy your food, but there's a huge difference between eating a dozen Oreos at the end of a frustrating workday and savoring a delicious dessert on your birthday. Ultimately, our buffering behaviors do nothing to solve or allow us to process the feeling or instead just resisting or trying to escape that feeling and forcing yourself into a happy place. And the reason we do it is because it works. We're able to escape our negative feelings usually though it's only for a really short time. The reason we're able to escape these negative feelings is because all of our buffering behaviors give us a hit of dopamine in our brains. Dopamine is called the pleasure hormone. We get dopamine from really anything pleasurable, whether that's something normal like watching the sunset or walking through a field of blooming flowers. But buffering behaviors are really excellent way to get a quick hit of concentrated dopamine. When you eat sweetss or other processed foods, you get this quick and huge hit of dopamine in our brains and those behaviors feel really good for a short time, and then it wears off quickly and when it happens, it can be a really bad cycle. You, if we think about a life coaching model of having a circumstance of weight gain, like maybe you've gained five pounds in the last two weeks and you have a thought of, Ugh, I'm so fat. And the feeling that you feel is shame, and instead of allowing yourself to feel that shame or come up with a good alternative, the action that you take is a buffering behavior like overeating. And so if you're overeating as a buffering behavior to not feel your shame, you have a result of gaining more weight. Recognizing when you're buffering is huge. It's going to take practice to recognize what you're feeling. And so I want you to do that. I want you to stop and practice, and you might literally pause the podcast right now and ask yourself, what am I feeling right now in this moment? And really think about it and see what's there. Maybe it's a positive emotion like motivation or inspiration, or maybe you have a negative feeling like guilt and shame. Whatever the feeling is you're having right now though, stop and notice it. If you can allow yourself to feel the emotion, close your eyes and listen to your body, what does that emotion feel like for you? What are the qualities it has? Is there a speed to it, a weight, a volume, maybe even a sound or a color? And bear with me here because if you believe that feelings are for the weak, you might just want to move on and skip that part. But is it possible that our feelings are the key to ourselves? Because if our feelings are driving all of our actions, we are taking in our lives, wouldn't you want to know what feelings you're having so you know how to manage them? Because when we allow our feelings, we're allowing ourselves to experience them. We recognize that a feeling is nothing more than a vibration in our body. It can do no harm, and we can sit there and we can experience it, and slowly that feeling will dissipate. Whether it's a positive feeling or a negative feeling, the experience of it will dampen usually within just a minute or two. And the most amazing thing is when you allow yourself to feel your feelings, you realize they're not so scary, even the really, really negative emotions, you don't have to avoid them. We don't have to escape them with food or alcohol or social media or any other buffering behaviors. We can just allow them and when the negative emotions don't feel so scary, the 50 50 of life doesn't sound so bad either. I want to challenge you to really spend some time thinking about this, whether you're brand new to these concepts or whether you've heard them before. When you find yourself in any action, particularly one of those undesirable actions like overeating, stop and question, why am I doing what I'm doing? Pay attention to what feelings you're having and what feelings you're trying to avoid. Thank you so much for joining me. If you're interested in learning more about me or if you live in Illinois or Virginia, I would like to be a patient in my telemedicine based weight loss practice. Check out my website That's S-A-R-A-H-S-T-O-M-B-A-U-G-H-M-D dot com. If you've enjoyed the podcast today, please subscribe and leave me a review wherever you listen to podcast. Please share this with anyone who might benefit. Thank you so much for joining me today. As always, I look forward to seeing you next week. Bye-bye.
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