As someone who used to be an emotional eater, I’m always sensitive to my clients who struggle endlessly with this issue. It’s such a complicated matter that I could (and likely one day will) write an entire book about it. For this week, I wanted to at least make it the subject of my blog post, as it seems to be a recurring theme in my work with clients.
I recently hosted a guest on my radio show, TARA MARIE LIVE, named Jesse, age 64. He is suffering terribly and feels trapped in an endless cycle of binge eating and the self-loathing that goes with it. Consumed with despair, he feels like he’s fallen into a dark hole and can’t see the light.
For people who don’t struggle with this problem, it is impossible to explain how FOOD can CONTROL every thought, action, and desire in an otherwise normally-functioning person.
For people who do struggle, it is impossible to put into words how out-of-control they can feel around a gallon of ice cream, a package of cookies, or any other trigger food. I had a client once tell me that she would literally salivate if she walked by a vending machine.
I’m currently working with a private client whose whole life is about food—what he ate for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner; what he wanted to eat; what he should have eaten; what he will eat later, and what he misses eating (when he’s trying to be “good.”)
I remember those days well, but not fondly—when there was hardly room for fun in my life because all of my time was consumed with obsessing over food or being disgusted with myself for losing control around food. It was a horrible way to live and a terrible waste of time.
I always give my clients the same advice—it’s based on knowledge that I learned the hard way, as for years of my life I tried to solve my “food” problems by focusing on food.
What I finally figured out after decades of suffering is that neither I, nor any emotional or compulsive eater, have a problem with food. Focusing on food to fix compulsive, emotional, or binge eating is akin to believing that a person who shops compulsively will stop doing so if you focus on all of the clothes she owns.
No compulsive behavior is based on rational thought, and counting, tracking, measuring and talking yourself blue-in-the-face about the object of your compulsive behavior will get you nowhere.
People who eat compulsively or emotionally are using food to NURTURE themselves rather than to NOURISH themselves.
Unfortunately, this habit is ingrained in us from birth—we give a crying baby a bottle; we offer a toddler a cookie to calm him down; we let off steam at the end of a stressful day with a well-deserved slab of cake; we soothe the pain of a break up with our friends, Ben & Jerry.
Binge, compulsive, and emotional eating are really the same—we are eating for all the wrong reasons and we are running from our feelings. We run from who we are; we run from shame; we run from anxiety; we run from loneliness; we run from loss, emptiness, sadness—you name it, we run from it.
Here’s the key to breaking the cycle: figure out what you are running from and instead, confront it. If you feel worthless, work on learning to value yourself—a cheese cake will not give you self-esteem. If you are lonely, join a club in your community and make some friends—cookies are not a substitute for human contact. If you have anxiety about a situation in your life, FACE IT head on—a sleeve of Oreos won’t make a stressful situation any less stressful. If you feel shame about yourself or something in your life, you can’t hide behind pounds and pounds of extra fat—people can still see you in there. You can keep running, but take it from me—you just end up really tired.
Focusing on the feelings from which you are desperately trying to distract yourself is the only hope of freeing yourself from the self-imposed prison of compulsive, binge, and emotional eating. Recognize the feelings, be willing to FEEL the feelings, and do something that’s going to help you effectively deal with what you would rather avoid. I talk more about this in my blog post describing my 4-step system to overcome binge eating called, R.A.G.E.®. Check out, Battle Binge Eating with R.A.G.E.®.
There IS help and there is ALWAYS hope!