Sensations vs. Feelings

Hi everyone! In this post, I want to teach you the difference between feelings and sensations. It’s really important to understand the distinction between the two when you are trying to understand why you overeat.

Sensations:

A sensation is a message sent from your body to your brain to let it know what’s going on out there in the periphery. It’s how the brain is able to check in on what’s happening with your body. Examples of sensations are physical hunger, physical thirst, physical pain, hot, and cold. These all start in our bodies and then move up to the brain.

Feelings:

Feelings (or emotions) are messages that start in our brains and move down to our bodies. I’ll give you my favorite example of this:

Let’s say you found yourself in a big convention center. Suddenly, someone rushes up to you to tell you that in 3 minutes, you need to be up on stage. You figure out that you are being called on to stand up in front of 5,000 people to give a speech on a topic you know nothing about. For a lot of us, we would immediately have a few thoughts about this. They might be something like, “What am I going to say?!?” or “How come I didn’t know anything about this?!?” or “They’ll think I’m an idiot and I’ll be so embarrassed!”

When we have those thoughts, a chemical cascade begins in the brain that moves down to the body (disclaimer: I am not a neuroscientist so this is a very simplified description!). Once this cascade reaches the body, a number of physical responses may occur. They might be something like sweating palms, a rapid heart rate, tension in the body, and jitteriness. The word we use to describe this grouping of physical responses is: NERVOUS.

The take-home point here is that the feeling of nervous is a result of our thoughts about having to give the last minute speech, not the actual last minute speech.

If one minute later, the same person ran up to you and told you that they had screwed up and mistaken you for the speaker who was actually scheduled to give the talk, you would likely feel RELIEF. But the reason you’d feel relief is not because of what that person told you. The reason you’d feel relief is because of new thoughts that you would have about the fact that you no longer have to give the speech. Maybe something like, “Oh phew! I knew there was a logical explanation for the mix-up!” or “Thank goodness! I hate giving speeches!”

So thoughts always precede our feelings. Always. Sometimes it might seem like there isn’t a thought there, but with some investigation, there always is.

When we emotionally overeat, we are often avoiding a negative feeling. Why sit and feel something that is pretty or very uncomfortable when we can just eat something and feel better?

There’s a great saying out there: “If you want to know why you overeat, stop overeating and you’ll find out.”

So now that you know the hunger scale as well as feelings vs. sensations, the next time you reach for something to eat, do these two steps. First, determine where you are on the hunger scale. Then, if you are at 0 or higher (on the plus side) of the scale, meaning not physically hungry, determine what the feeling is that you are experiencing before you take the first bite. It should be a one word descriptor of what is going on in your body. It might be bored, lonely, sad, frustrated, overwhelmed, or annoyed. Or it might be even a positive emotion like joyful. Tuning in to what you are feeling before you eat will help you to permanently put brakes on the emotional eating train. You have to know why you’re doing it before you can stop.

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