You had a bad day at the office, at school, or at home, are reeling from a fight with your best friend, sister, or boyfriend, and your kids, parents, or neighbors are driving you crazy. You sit down in front of the television or crawl into bed to enjoy a bowl of ice cream, a bag of pretzels, or a glass or two or three of wine. The food is soothing and comforting—I get it. However, no matter how good it feels, eating is only a distraction, a diversion that temporarily relieves the feeling of stress, sadness, anger, or frustration. Experts estimate that 75 percent of overeating is caused by an emotional response, making most of us guilty of reaching for food rather than dealing with the root causes of our emotions. Practicing the art of witnessing heightens our sensitivity to our own nature, leading us down a path to understand our emotions and break the cycle of eating in response to emotions rather than hunger.
The art of witnessing is the practice of observing thoughts as they arise and fall, without allowing our emotions and ultimately our actions to be stimulated by said thoughts and images. Some emotions are neutral, keeping us in a state of homeostasis; others are positive, pulling us up; and yet others are negative, pushing us down. While it is natural for our thoughts to be inexorably linked to emotions, some emotions, especially those of anger, guilt, fear, sadness, and the like, undermine our ability to make healthful choices and are potential roadblocks in reaching our wellness potential. Witnessing, steeped in thousands of years of yogic tradition and philosophy, enables us to more clearly distinguish the origins of our emotions. This type of watchfulness accepts the emotion and then digs deeper to understand the origin, ultimately freeing us from decisions based on emotions.
Our ability to observe ourselves liberates our thoughts from our emotions, progressively weakening the connection between thoughts, negative emotions, and our subsequent self-destructive actions. Weakening the power of negative emotion increases the possibility of a more positive frame of mind and more healthful attitude toward life, making the art of witnessing a fundamental tool for self-development and self-understanding. If you take the time to stop to observe your thoughts, ask and answer your own questions, and hold yourself accountable for your food choices, your desire to medicate yourself with food to ease your emotions will slowly fade. Prior to making food decisions, practice the art of witnessing.
- Develop a practice of stopping. When you are reaching for something to eat, stop for a moment to consider how you feel and how those feelings translate into emotions. Notice your feelings. Label your feelings with words like hot, stiff, tired, hungry, etc. Then notice your emotions. Label your emotions with words like happy, sad, angry, etc.
- Ask yourself questions. Once you’ve made your observations about your feelings and emotions, ask yourself questions such as, “Am I eating this because I am hungry, because I am sad, or because I am tired and sad?” Asking these types of questions will move you toward making the decision that is best for you and your body.
- Be understanding. Eating is a series of choices. Sometimes you will make ones that are reflective of what your body physically needs and other times not. Considering your choices by stopping to reflect and asking yourself questions is key to making good decisions. However, be understanding that you won’t always make the best decisions for your body. Eating one chocolate chip cookie when you’re feeling tired and sad doesn’t need to sabotage future eating decisions.