I’m going to work to commit every Thursday evening to writing about self-care – what it is, how you can achieve it, and how we can become better together. As this series progresses, feel free to chime in with your thoughts, questions and concerns. View the series in its entirety. You are now viewing part 11.

You should know, as I type this blog post, Ralph Tresvant is playing in my head.

I mean, a look at the video will tell you what kind of struggle we’re dealing with, here. Dude’s got a high top fade, in the white suit, the dance moves, I mean…the 90s were hard. For us all.

I digress. What matters here, is that I love the song. Guy approaches girl, tells her he can see that she’s hurting, tells her he wants to comfort her and support her emotionally because, in this moment, she needs someone…. with… sen…si…ti…vi…ty. (If you didn’t click the link and listen to the song, you’re missing out!)

This same kind of logic applies in emotional eating, believe it or not: for one reason or another, you’re hurting, you need comfort and support, and you need sensitivity – also known as compassion – to help you through it. You need someone to recognize the power and influence of the emotions in play, and you need that support to guide you through in a healthy fashion, lest you resort to the same unhealthy habits, the same cycle.

Except, many times, that “someone” is you.

Many of the moments when binge eaters are at their most vulnerable, are when they are alone. When you’re out of eyesight, earshot, and know you won’t be bothered for a while. Or, maybe you’re at your desk in a cubicle where you can track when people are coming and going. Or maybe an office. Or your car. Whatever the case, you’ve been upset or stressed out to the point where you feel like an episode is eminent…

…but you stop yourself.

You’re sensitive to these emotions and these levels of stress and anxiety, now. You’ve vowed to yourself to fight your way out of this rabbit hole when you feel yourself sliding downward, and you’ve acknowledged that this means being sensitive to every point in the cycle as you experience it.

The first thing you do, is you recognize your stress levels are approaching high levels. The desire to leave your desk and look for a reprieve is rising, and you know that your habit is to leave and take a quick dash to the vending machine down the hall.

You ask yourself, “Is there any other quick break I can take that won’t involve food?”

You look around, and you realize you’ve got a walking path around your work building. It’s not pretty, but its safe – well lit, away from traffic, and quiet. You decide to take five minutes and go for a quick walk outside. It gives you just enough time to decompress from the stress and think of a healthy way to solve the problem uninterrupted by the world around you.

And therein lies the importance of sensitivity – being sensitive to our own emotions and the role they play in our bad habits gives us the fighting chance we need to kick the habit. With sensitivity comes clarity – the ability to spot patterns (oh, I always reach for the Chunky Munky whenever I have a bad phone call with my long distance boo thang), the ability to identify triggers (oh, the passive aggressive comments from my boss/mother/frenemy always set me off reaching for a piece of candy in my purse), and the ability to spot behavior that leads to completing the vicious cycle (“Why am I in the drive thru at [insert fast food joint]?”) – and infinite opportunities and possibilities to make change. Being sensitive to our initial emotions helps us spot what’s setting us off, and working to solve that problem – thereby saving us from the shame of reverting back to the old.

But you and I both know that we don’t always catch ourselves that early on in the act. Sometimes, we even catch ourselves mid-way through the bag. Whatever. No matter what point you caught yourself, it’s never too late for reflection. It’s never too late for understanding. Most importantly, it’s never too late for forgiveness. In fact, forgiveness is always right on time.

So many of us grew up never learning to pay closer attention to our emotions – we learned that showing emotion was for the weak. We learned that paying attention to our emotions was for those who couldn’t hack it in the real world. And our parents worked hard – so hard, in fact, that we didn’t get that quality time necessary to help us work through our emotions. We didn’t learn that there’s a wide spectrum of feelings between “stoic, dry” and “sobbing coward,” but there is. And we fluctuate wildly from day to day, hour to hour, with where we are in that range.

Wherever we are on the spectrum when we find ourselves feeling triggered to revert back to emotional eating, we should stop, remind ourselves that this never results in making ourselves feel better in the long run, and remember that there is a light at the end of the tunnel… we just have to fight to see it.

That fight isn’t easy, or fun, and certainly isn’t always a guaranteed win… but it is so rewarding. To forgive, to learn, to love, to learn some more, to forgive a lot more – the process makes you strong. Not strong in the way that turns women into mules, lugging baggage for another… but strong in the way that embodies resilience and humanity. “I experience pain and anxiety, and I deal with it healthily.” That kind of strength.

For an emotional eater, realizing there’s a light at the end of the tunnel – at least, for me – was realizing that there was something healthy I could do to relieve my stress in 30 seconds, 5 minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 2 hours, and beyond that wasn’t food related. I found what could help me breathe again. What worked for me won’t necessarily work for you. But when you find what works best for you, and you realize that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, you start to feel free again. And, really, we all need freedom.

Next week: Freedom from emotional eating.