Navigating negative feelings after eating

Submitted by Belinda from Talk ED

Feeling full after eating can conjure many reactions, emotions and feelings. It is natural for our stomachs and intestines to distend temporarily after eating. This distention, along with hormones and enzymes secreted during digestion, serves as a signal to feel satisfied after the meal and to not continue eating beyond fullness. Our bodies then work to digest what we’ve eaten and the distension decreases.

Even though this ‘full’ feeling is a natural response and can result in a positive feeling for some, it can also cause us discomfort or anxiety, which may then result in negative thoughts and feelings. It can be useful to identify these so that we can take actions to help improve our relationship with food and eating.

Physical Discomfort

We may experience physical discomfort after eating, in the form of pain or bloating. This can be due to many different factors and if you experience frequent physical pain after eating, visiting your GP would be the first port of call. It can be worthwhile making a note of the degree of physical discomfort you experience after each meal. Patterns may often occur, for example, you may feel more pain or bloating after eating certain foods. You may feel more comfortable and pain-free after eating other foods. Try making a note of which foods make you feel better and which foods make you feel worse. This way, you can choose to eat more of the foods that don’t cause discomfort.

Try tending to your pain and discomfort after eating. Even the simple act of placing your hands over a sore tummy may help. Other supportive actions include using a hot water bottle to soothe pain, lying down or having a warm bath.

Emotional Discomfort

Feeling full may be a new experience if we have been in a phase of restriction. Novel experiences and change can feel overwhelming or make us feel ‘out of control’ and lead to feelings of anxiety. It can be useful to remember that new or unfamiliar does not have to signify danger. Recovery involves change, and with this comes new experiences and also new sensations. If you feel anxious or upset after a meal, it can be helpful to find a place to be still and take deep breaths. Take a chance to sit down, close your eyes and concentrate on inhaling and exhaling. It may take a few minutes of doing this to feel calmer.

Depending on our associations with food and our bodies, feeling full after eating may also provoke feelings of guilt or shame. Noticing and identifying these feelings can be the first step in moving past them. It can be useful to journal after eating, in order to put some distance between yourself and your thoughts. Talking about your feelings with a trusted friend or family member can also help. Sitting and breathing as mentioned above, can also be beneficial in calming intense feelings.

Tips to prepare our bodies and minds before eating

How we feel after eating depends on many factors, and it is possible to prepare ourselves before eating to aid our physical digestion, as well as our emotional relationship with food.

  • Before taking your first bite, sit and bring your awareness to the present moment. If you’re feeling anxious before eating, take some time to regulate your breathing and begin eating once you feel more relaxed.
  • The digestive process can begin long before we even begin eating; take a moment to smell the food and notice how it looks on the plate.
  • A great deal of power lies in gratitude. Through planting, harvesting, producing, transporting and finally cooking and preparing, the food you eat has had a long journey before it enters your body. Take a moment to appreciate this.
  • In a world where we are often distracted, it can be easy to forget to chew and taste our food properly. Try concentrating on chewing, tasting and swallowing for the first few mouthfuls of each meal.

If you are experiencing these thoughts and feelings, support is available.  We are here to listen to any worries that you may have about eating disorders or disordered eating and to provide practical support and guidance towards recovery.

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