Substitute a New Behavior for EatingHealing and recovery are often progressive because it requires changes in a person’s character and actions. The way to cope with emotional pain must change if the decision is to no longer eat (drink, or any other addictive reaction) through the pain.

Keeping a record of what one does when one becomes emotionally upset is an excellent way to watch progress occur, perhaps in a journal. The journey to finding new alternatives to eating might look like this: “I received an upsetting phone call from my ex. This made me feel hurt, so I went to the refrigerator and opened the door to eat.” Now, think of a new way to cope with that feeling. What could be a substitute for eating? One recommendation is calling a friend to pray. Here’s another example: “I heard someone gossip about me at church. This made me feel angry, so I stopped for fries at a fast-food restaurant.” A good alternative would be to gently confront the person who did the gossiping rather than feed the feelings.

To help choose alternatives to eating, make a list of behaviors that can substitute for eating the next time an intense emotion triggers that desire. The list should include things to do while driving, being at home, work, or on the go. Post the list on the refrigerator and use notes on the cell phone for reminders. Every time temptation to eat because of an unpleasant emotion, pull out the list and choose a new thing to do.

Maybe there’s been hurt by a cruel divorce, an abusive father, a betraying friend, or an insulting boss. Whatever the cause of the hurt, it’s time to stop using food as an emotional crutch and let the pain surface. When this occurs, it might cause an experience of intense feelings of anger or fear, but there will not be healing until the emotions are confronted.

Just let the feelings come and ask God to understand precisely where the feelings originate. Don’t try to edit the feelings and thoughts. Whatever comes to mind, grab that thought. Most likely, it is a lie that was implanted at the time of the emotional pain when first experiencing those feelings. Try to identify the lie, and once it’s discovered, ask Jesus to speak His truth. Wait and listen for His voice, whether it comes in the form of a whisper of His Spirit or a visual picture He may provide. Wait on Him and expect Him to bring truth. His truth brings release from that lie.

Excerpted from the book Lose It for Life by Steve Arterburn and Linda Mintle