Anger and Compulsive Eating

Part of the pledge we say every week in TOPS is “I am an intelligent person.  I will control my emotions and not let my emotions control me.”  Emotional eating, compulsive eating, is an enormous problem for most people in our group.  It is an issue we all struggle with and support one another to address.  But, as someone with bipolar disorder, I knew I would be lying if I said the pledge as written.  My moods are uncontrollable.  Emotions often erupt out of thin air.  I edited my version of the pledge to say “I will observe my emotions and not let my thoughts control me.”  I felt this put the TOPS pledge in alignment with my practice.  If I could observe my thoughts and emotions, I could discern which pieces might be out of my control and which ones I might be able to work with.

I received an opportunity to Observe this week.  For the past few days, I have been enraged, and I watched myself eat everything in sight.  This sounds like I was conscious.  I was not.  I was given moments, flashes, where awareness occurred in spite of the boiling rage.  These were gifts borne of Practice.  In those moments, I could see I was suffering and making the suffering worse.  I tried to hold my anger gently.  Then, the anger would wash over me, and I would go back to sleep.

Anger is part of my illness.  It is also part of being Human.  Rage does not make me a monster or a lunatic, but it pulls me from the path I want to travel.  This morning I knew I must find a different way to work with this particular manifestation of anger if I was to continue on my chosen path.  I needed a practice.  Admitting that made me remember a book I’d not touched in a long time, a book by someone I consider my Teacher—Thich Nhat Hanh.

What a shock to open his book and find the first chapter devoted to consumption.

We all need to know how to handle and take care of our anger.  To do this, we must pay more attention to the biochemical aspect of anger, because anger has its roots in our body as well as our mind.  When we analyze our anger, we can see its physiological elements.  We have to look deeply at how we eat, how we drink, how we consume, and how we handle our body in our daily life.

I expected my Teacher to offer me a way to take care of my anger so I could stop compulsively eating.  How ironic, how very Buddhist, to discover that Mindful Eating is the way.  At least, the first step of the Way.  So, today I will start.  I will follow the Mindfulness Training on consumption…

…to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming.  I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society.  I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest food or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations…

Today I will slow down and try to stay conscious about what I take in, not feeding the anger, not building more energy for my anger to use.  I will breathe, and practice, and try to be open to what rises in me.  The path is before me.  This is the first step.

Excerpts from Anger—Wisdom for Cooling the Flames by Thich Nhat Hahn.

15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. pegoleg
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 09:14:24

    I’ve had a similar week, Sandy, although not with the rage component that plagues you. I’ve been making the decision to buy and binge on junk food. A tiny little voice attempts to talk me out of it but I ignore it easily and go straight for my fix.

    I’ve lost a lot of weight before and always gained it back. Each time I SWEAR I won’t do that again. That I’ll stop if I gain back 5 pounds. And each time the addiction pulls me down again. It’s very depressing.


  2. Penny
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 09:48:13

    You know how timely what you have written is for me! Thank you for being one of my teachers and helping me be more mindful! Thank you for being so brave in facing each day. Thank you for your honesty!! I look forward to hearing about your day today as I believe you will encounter peace today! Much love and many hugs, my dear friend!


    • Sandy Sue
      Aug 17, 2012 @ 18:16:40

      You are always so kind and supportive, Penny. It’s wonderful that we can mirror for each other the way we do. Your friendship has been an embarrassment of riches for me.


  3. ManicMuses
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 12:55:58

    Thich Nhat Hahn is also one of my go to / favorites. How appropriate you should stumble upon the book and chapter you did, just when you need it the most. I’ll send some good thoughts your way next time I go ’round my mala :


  4. littlesundog
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 20:26:34

    Just the post I needed to read today. I had a little bout with an old, festering anger issue… I just can’t seem to let it go. After eating everything in the house and just now polishing off an embarrassing number of cookies (and cookie dough!), I’m even more miserable.

    Tomorrow will be a new day to start afresh. But I know, I haven’t dealt with the problem… and I’m not sure how to. It does help to read your inspiring posts… and to keep mindful of the path I want to walk.


    • Sandy Sue
      Aug 17, 2012 @ 22:15:24

      Journaling about the incident has really helped me. I can look at where my thinking twisted, how unrealistic my expectations were, what assumptions I made, and just exactly what it is that I’m angry about. For me, it always helps to distill the vague fog into something more concrete through words.


  5. Bonni
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 09:57:09

    your thoughts started my day with intention and vision. I am grateful for the guidance present to share them and the beauty in which you do this……


  6. rachelmiller1511
    Aug 23, 2012 @ 07:49:55

    Perfect post 🙂

    Last week I was I a very similar position and feeling a lot of anger. Within a few days I’d picked up a virus. I haven’t had so much as a sniffle for 2 years. Suddenly I get all angry- buried anger I think- and I get sick almost immediately. Incredible what the emotions do to our body- it’s such a powerful effect.

    Love that you can turn a negative- your anger and eating- and come out with a wonderful positive, mindful eating. Great stuff xxx


    • Sandy Sue
      Aug 23, 2012 @ 08:17:38

      OhMiGod! I caught a virus, too!! I’ve fended off colds all summer with Zinc and a little antihistamine, but that failed this time. So, it has to be the anger connection! We need to seriously pay attention to this! Conduct our own research project, so to speak. Thank you for sharing this—my brain is spinning.


      • rachelmiller1511
        Aug 23, 2012 @ 08:32:59

        Wow- how weird!! Time to get all that suppressed anger healed! I was getting angry with my partner about little things. Few days later I realised the little things were triggering past angers that hadn’t been expressed. The anger wasn’t really about my partner at all. Went to a therapist to work through it, which helped me gain perspective. Good luck xx

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