I’m so mad and crunching my way through a bowl of popcorn. Not a small individual size either. A full-sized, this-should-be-enough-for-four-people bowl.
I’m angry and want to destroy.
I want to scream and fight back.
But I can’t — or so I think — so I crunch instead.
When I was getting divorced, feeling betrayed and cheated, I spent many nights alone, watching reruns of The Gilmore Girls, ruminating about how unfairly I was treated, stewing in my righteous anger.
I wanted to call him up, and scream his lies back into his face.
I wanted to take out a full page ad in the Hollywood Reporter about his infidelities.
I wanted to tell his family the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
But I didn’t. That wouldn’t be taking “the high road” as I’d been taught to do my whole life. That wouldn’t be responsible.
So I crunched. And crunched.
This is Anger Snacking.
You know what I’m talking about:
- Your boss assumes you’ll work overtime, and you end up putting in more hours than humanly possible, only to find out the project doesn’t get off the ground.
(How many Excel spreadsheets am I going to have to color code and format, while I could be leaving work at a reasonable hour and get to yoga for once? — OH! And isn’t this the same idea we worked on last month that got trashed but we’re now redoing it for the third time? Might as well get another bag of potato chips if I’m going to have to be here another two hours.)
- Your mother-in-law judges your parenting or food choices and makes repeated, small comments that make your blood boil during Thanksgiving, a time you’re supposed to be friendly and thankful.
(Yeah right: SO thankful for this group of emotionally stunted humans and a table filled with food I’d rather not eat. But it’s here, and I can’t say anything, so I’ll overfill my plate and overstuff my belly.)
- Your insurance agent doesn’t listen to your request, costing you time and money, as they constantly try to talk you into doing something you don’t want to do.
(Yeah, I hired you and you’re neither listening to me nor answering my original question. Give me another bag of chocolate-covered almonds.)
Anger snacking is that common, self-destructive habit of eating our anger. It’s the satisfying destruction of food in our mouths, when what we really want to do is rip someone a new *one.*
Why do we do this to ourselves?
Mainly because it’s not cool to be an angry woman.
Have you ever allowed yourself to be truly angry, especially in front of other people? Have you learned to direct your anger in a healthy, productive way, using your indignation and self-respect to get an important point across?
For women, it feels incredibly unsafe to show our anger.
From infancy, we are taught to be nice, be good, be sweet. Make up with people we didn’t want. While boys are encouraged to be, well, boys.
If we get angry, we’re labeled as difficult, bad, mean, ugly, disagreeable, nasty.
And there’s really nothing worse than being labeled as a “not nice girl.”
Our fear is that no one will like us, and no one will stick up for us, and we’ll be alone.
This is an incredibly unsafe way to live. So we play nice. We stuff our feelings down. We airbrush our emotions. We justify other people’s bad behavior and downplay disrespect.
But here’s the stark truth about anger: strong emotions get stuck in the body if they aren’t worked through and moved out of us physically.
Here’s the real, horrible equation keeping women in a vicious cycle of self-harming food behaviors:
Trauma is defined as a deeply disturbing or distressing event. Think about it. We are surrounded by trauma that we aren’t allowed to respond to appropriately. Trauma almost invariably involves not being seen, and not being taken into account. Trauma robs us of the feeling that we are in charge of ourselves. It revs up our adrenals, and represses our immune function.
Yes, this “good girl” culture is truly traumatic for women. We are constantly on guard, reading every experience, friend, and colleague for a hint that we might be stepping over a line.
And this stress and trauma keeps emotion – including anger – stuck and frozen in the body.
We lie to ourselves that the anger and frustration don’t matter much. And these lies we tell ourselves are our greatest source of suffering…
But the body registers the stuck anger, feels the discomfort as a kind of “static,” and must release it in some way.
Thus, anger snacking.
In his masterpiece The Body Keeps The Score, Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk explains:
“After trauma the world is experienced with a different nervous system. The survivor’s energy now becomes focused on suppressing inner chaos, at the expense of spontaneous involvement in their life. These attempts to maintain control over unbearable physiological reactions can result in a whole range of physical symptoms, including chronic pain, autoimmune diseases, cravings for overall soothing foods. This explains why it is critical for trauma treatment to engage the entire organism, body, mind, and brain.
“Long after the actual traumatic event has passed, the brain may keep sending signals to the body to escape a threat that no longer exists.”
Rather than risk being a bitch, we drown ourselves in jars of crunchy almond butter, mow through acres of buttery popcorn, and numb out with extra large cartons of hot french fries.
We destroy our angry feelings with these foods, rather than acknowledge how we feel or learn how to address our anger appropriately.
How to be angry without destroying the world.
If you haven’t gotten outwardly angry at another person in a while (think decades for some of us, ladies), you’ll want to start practicing.
It’s good to learn your own capacity for rage, and get out the frustration physically if it’s been bottled up for a long time.
It’s time to reestablish ownership of your body and your mind – for yourself. This means feeling free to know what you know, and feel what you feel, without becoming overwhelmed, enraged, ashamed, or collapsed.
First, go to your bedroom and shut the door. Grab a pillow and beat the crap out of your bed. Really – smash the pillow into the mattress, grunt, and yell. Get it out.
Ok, how do you feel? Need some more?
BTW, have you ever taken a self-defense class? A model-mugging program where you’re taught to fight off a simulated attack? Try it.
Especially if you didn’t play contact sports growing up, it can feel really empowering to learn it’s ok to protect yourself physically.
Classes are offered around the US by many great organizations – just search for “self defense classes” in your city:
I also love turning on some loud feminist-friendly rock and dancing. I highly recommend:
Here’s a special 25 song playlist I made on Spotify to shake, rock, stomp, and move out the anger.
You may want to keep this practice in rotation for a while, especially if you’ve been a career Nice Girl for decades.
The next practice is to write a letter to the person you’re angry with. Sit yourself down with paper and pen or a blank document… Don’t write this in an email even if you don’t intend to ever send it. We don’t want any technical gremlins to accidentally send this angry email on your behalf.
It feels good to share exactly what you wish you could have said. It’s a release to get the shit out of your head and onto the paper.
Now throw it away. Or burn it. The ritual burning adds a powerful release.
The almost-last-step is to start practicing, regularly, how to become calm and focused in your body.
I created three guided meditations that can help you get started quickly:
When you are able to step back from a stressful, angry situation and maintain that calm, centered awareness of your body, your body will need less outside comforting from food.
Finally, it’s time to start having challenging conversations with people who trigger you:
If you know the person well, be willing to tell the person, face to face, that you’re concerned about your relationship dynamic.
Share your intentions for the conversation, your concerns, how you want to be treated, and your desire for your future relationship or interactions. It’s not the easiest thing to do, but it’s one of the greatest skills we can develop as strong humans. Clear communication leads to clean relationships and stronger respect between people.
And join the conversation over at my private Facebook group.