Why don’ t you just go on a diet? Really? “I’m so sick of hearing it,” Jenny said. “Do people think I enjoy being fat? If it were easy, I’d lose weight. I’m so miserable!”
Jenny was stuck. She knew she had a food problem, but nothing she had tried in the past had ever worked. She was fifty pounds overweight and she felt tired, frustrated, marginalized in the workplace, and ready to give up.
Jenny suffers from a common problem: compulsive overeating. It started when she was little and her mother would use food as a solution to Jenny’s problems. Jenny never learned how to deal with painful emotions—she just ate. Over time, she learned to associate food with comfort.
Compulsive over eaters use food to distract, bury, or calm strong emotions. They live with guilt, shame and often have impulse problems in other areas of their lives.
What’s the solution? What can folks like Jenny do to break the addiction cycle? Two things: choose to make a lifestyle change, and be willing to get naked with their pain.
To break the cycle, Jenny needed to start noticing the pain she’d buried with food. Eating may fill you for the moment, but the pain is still there. Food won’t fill your heart. If you need love and you overeat—you still need love. The key is finding out how the pain is connected to your need for food.
Compulsive overeating becomes a learned response to a blocked goal (i.e. love, acceptance). The difficulty is, food meets some significant needs for acceptance in the lives of overeaters and creates a powerful drive state that compels them to fill that need at all costs. The tension and anxiety created by not having a need met makes us incredibly uncomfortable. And we’re not comfortable being uncomfortable.
To break free, several key things need to occur:
Learn to become comfortable being uncomfortable
This means you have to learn to sit with painful emotions and learn more adaptive ways of dealing with them. You have to push through and realize that while painful, strong emotions won’t do you in. Try journaling, talking to a trusted friend, exercising, or meditation
Develop a list of behavioral distractions to try before you overeat (go for a run, take a hot bath, watch a movie, call a friend)
Notice your triggers
Pay attention to what your eating triggers are. If you have a disagreement with your spouse, feel rejected, or sad-notice it, and see how it’s connected to your need for food
Think Bigger Picture
How much does what you weigh really matter in the entire scheme of life? Does being a certain weight add value to your life or your relationships? Do it make you less worthy of love? Is there something more redemptive that you could be putting your time and energy into that would make you feel better about your contribution to society
Statistics show that people who have a good support system fair better at overcoming any type of mental health disorder. Find a couple of people who will agree to walk along side you through this journey of self-discovery
Because most compulsive overeaters deal with a great deal of shame and self-loathing, they generally have a low self-image. There is only one solution for that—not allowing your value to be determined by what others think, and remembering you are more than a number. You are not defined by what you see in the mirror
There is no quick fix for an eating disorder. The work is hard and takes intentional deliberate effort. The good news is you really can do it if you set your mind to it!