Overeating, binge eating, stress eating, and emotional eating are powerful coping mechanisms because they help people escape whatever uncomfortable feelings are in front of them.
Christine, a 40-year-old patient of mine, had just moved back to Los Angeles from Alabama. While she was living in the south she gained 50 pounds. It wasn't just the down home cooking; it was being in an abusive relationship and then living alone in an unsafe neighborhood.
She was already ashamed about her weight when she moved back home to LA. After all, she used to be a model. But she was determined to have a fresh start. This time, she was going to get what she deserved from her job and from her relationships. She was going to do everything right from day one.
But when she was offered a job, within the first week back, she didn't negotiate a high enough salary for herself. She got off the phone feeling defeated, her chance to have a clean slate ruined. Just like when you blow your diet and you figure, Why bother, for the rest of the day. She didn't realize that she was feeling all of these things. She just hung up the phone and suddenly felt hungry.
I define emotional eating as using food to deal with your experience of powerlessness over the struggles and stresses of life. Something always triggers you to overeat, perhaps some friction with someone or an emotionally relevant event in your life.
It's not the person or the event that sets you off but how those things made you feel. At first you may not even know how you feel. As you work on being your own psychotherapist, you'll observe the places you're at or the people you're around when you tend to overeat. Then you'll pay close attention to what feelings come up for you around those people or situations.
Simply identifying the times you overeat is a huge first step. It's a huge step because as things start to come into focus you'll be able to put a spotlight on them and that will allow you to analyze them. Inevitably, you'll have to confront the bad feelings that, up until now, you've been trying to get rid of by eating.
Let's face it; there isn't anyone who welcomes bad feelings. We look to do something with them, like wish them away. We try to forget them. We take a nap, go for a jog, talk to a friend, distract ourselves with television or a book, have a drink, smoke a cigarette, have sex, or eat a snack.
Ideally, you can get to a point where bad feelings are like bad weather -- you know they'll pass. Just like when you know it's going to rain and you bring your umbrella, you'll know how to predict your feelings and what you'll need to get through them. If you haven't yet arrived at this place of acceptance, where even bad feelings are a part of you to include rather than to banish, then food will remain your preferred method of medicating yourself.
Why has food become the thing that you consistently turn to when feelings triggered by people or events feel unbearable?
Food serves two very effective purposes. First, it helps you avoid feelings. I call the desire to avoid emotions the "feeling phobia." Also, food gives you a way to replace bad feelings with the pleasurable experience of eating. I call the pleasurable experience that food provides the "food ... Continue
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