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trance." In short, eating protects you from the feelings that you don't want to feel.
If your feelings open the door to your interior world, then eating slams the door shut. It keeps you functioning on a surface level. Although you're feeling powerless to control what and how much you eat, at least you don't have to focus on the deeper things that really make you feel powerless (failed relationships, unsatisfying careers, difficult children, etc.).
Remember Christine from the beginning of this article? Not handling her job opportunity well made Christine feel a flood of bad feelings: disappointment, fear that her new start was already ruined, and anger at herself. By eating, she got to avoid confronting all those feelings.
Many people report to me that as they're approaching their goal weight they often sabotage themselves and all of their efforts. They wonder why that is. It doesn't seem to make any sense. You may be able to relate to that experience.
The answer, time and again, proves to be simple: if you didn't have your weight to think about, you might have to think about what's really bothering you... and that's very frightening. It's frightening because you feel powerless to change the things that really bother you. You've made what I call the "unexamined powerlessness conclusion." It's the conclusion that you're powerless over your feelings and the circumstances in your life that the feelings point towards, so why not just eat instead.
Eating takes you to an earlier place in your development, predominantly because, as infants and children, food is often associated with comfort and love. However, childhood is also associated with powerlessness. As a child, you were, in fact, powerless. You might have been mistreated. Maybe you couldn't control your impulses. Perhaps you were subject to abandonment or dependent on others to protect and nurture you.
Even if food provides you with some of the comfort of infancy by taking you back to that state of mind, when you use food in this way you're reverting back to a childish way of dealing with the world. And that reminds you of the powerless feeling of being a child.
You're an adult now and you have choices. You can be the powerful agent of your own life by facing your feelings and hearing what they have to say to you. Or you can continue eating to cope with emotions, knowing that it actually keeps you stuck in childhood, a place where you were powerless.
Facing your feelings brings you to adulthood, the only place where you have the possibility to finally be powerful.
Emotional eaters can't see the forest through the trees. In the moment when feelings have been triggered and an unexamined powerlessness conclusion has been reached, eating feels like a life or death decision.
When you distract yourself with food it's not an apple or a simple cookie. It tends to be large quantities of food, typically unhealthy foods, and the foods are eaten in a voracious aggressive way –- more like stuffing than eating. By the time the eating frenzy has ended the bad feelings have vanished; but they aren't really gone. They're just buried under food almost like lost files on a hard drive. They exist somewhere but are temporarily irretrievable. You're addicted to the escape that the food provides more than the food itself.
You can stop using food as an escape. By finding the upsetting feeling or situation and addressing it directly you can avoid overeating and recover your power at the same time. Learn more about my Shrink Yourself program to free yourself from Overeating.
Dr. Roger Gould is one of the world's leading authorities on emotional eating and adult development. A board-certified psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and former head of Community Psychiatry and Outpatient Psychiatry at UCLA, he is the author of Transformations and Shrink Yourself. Dr. Gould is also founder of the Shrink Yourself online program, an effective, proven program that ends emotional eating.
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