As Oliver Hardy might have said to his sidekick, Stan Laurel, "This is a fine mess we've gotten ourselves into." No, they weren't referring to weight, but we certainly can apply that to us!
Emotional eating, binge eating, compulsive overeating — whatever we want to call it, the actions and results are similar: out-of-control eating often resulting in overweight or obesity. For our purposes here, the words binge eater, compulsive overeater, and emotional eater will be used interchangeably, as they are all meant to imply the same thing — using food to satisfy our emotional needs.
Emotional overeating involves eating large quantities of food in a short period of time, feeling out of control during these binges, eating rapidly, eating without physical hunger, choosing to eat alone, grazing (nibbling at food all day), and/or feeling depressed about overeating.
Causes of Compulsive Overeating
What caused us to become compulsive overeaters? Many of us grew up in homes where we lived with anxiety and found comfort in food. Many of us grew up with criticism and shame and found an escape in food. Many of us grew up believing we were imperfect and needed to hide that feeling of imperfection by stuffing our faces (or, in reality, our bellies).
Here is a list that describes some of us. As you read through it, count how many apply to you all or much of the time:
- I am preoccupied with food, eating, and weight.
- I am aware that my eating patterns are not normal.
- I eat when I am not physically hungry.
- I eat very little in public and binge in private.
- I eat to comfort myself and relieve distressing feelings.
- I tend to eat more when I am stressed, anxious, or depressed.
- I graze all day, often needing something in my mouth.
- Food has become my friend, my lover, or my drug of choice.
- I sometimes feel hungry even after a large meal.
- I eat more rapidly than other people.
- I allow the scale to determine if I have a good or bad day.
- I eat until my stomach hurts or I feel nauseated.
- I feel ashamed of myself due to the quantity of food I consume.
- I feel powerless over my eating behavior.
- I eat before I go to bed at night so I can sleep.
- I use food as a reward.
- I eat when I am bored, tired, or feeling blah.
- I eat when I see food ads on TV.
- I often stop to get fast food and eat it in the car.
- I am secretive about what I eat and how much I eat.
- I eagerly anticipate the times I can eat alone.
- I am an overachiever and want to be in control.
- I often think I am worthless or not good enough.
- I frequently compare my body size to that of others.
- I make derogatory jokes about my eating or body size.
- I have tried many diets, unsuccessfully.
- I am terrified that I will keep gaining weight.
Patterns around Food & Weight Issues
Going through the list helps you become conscious of some of your patterns around food and weight issues. If you recognize yourself in three or more, you are probably a compulsive overeater.
Congratulate yourself for your truthfulness. We cannot change that which is hidden; bringing all this up and out is necessary in the process of healing and self-growth.
You might not have thought about food as a drug, but think about how you use it. Addicts and alcoholics use their drugs/alcohol to anesthetize themselves. Is that what you are doing with food?
Addicts and alcoholics use their drug of choice as a mood-altering substance to escape from emotional pain. What do you use to escape your feelings? Food, right?
Shedding Light on Compulsive Eating
This is not about making you feel wrong or bad. It is about shedding light on the activity you desire to change — your compulsive eating. It is about coming out of hiding and admitting to yourself that you use food just as alcoholics use booze. It is about admitting to yourself that you need your food fix just like dope addicts need their drug fix.
Take a deep breath — this may be a lot to take in. Again, being food dependent does not mean you're bad. You have a dependency, and as you read on and do the assignments, you will acquire tools to lessen the need to use and abuse food.
Eating History Assignment
My struggles with food and weight began when I was a child. What about you?
As you move into this phase of your life journey, it is time for you to take a look at your history with food, diets, and weight issues. So much of our eating is unconscious that you might not be cognizant of your eating history. Do the best you can. Looking at old photos and reading old diary entries can help.
My clients often gasp when I tell them to write their eating history. When I hear the comment "Why do you need to know?" I explain that it is really about them getting honest with themselves and their need to know.
Start to think about it for yourself. Beginning with childhood, what has been your relationship with food? Did you start compulsive overeating as a youngster? Did the binge eating start in adulthood? What were the events that led up to it?
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Conari Press,
an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC. www.redwheelweiser.com.
©2011 by Meryl Hershey Beck. All rights reserved.
This article was adapted with permission from the book:
Stop Eating Your Heart Out: The 21-Day Program to Free Yourself from Emotional Eating by Meryl Hershey Beck.
Stop Eating Your Heart Out speaks to anyone's challenges with food, weight, and emotional eating. Compulsive overeating is conquerable. If you, or anyone you love, want freedom from emotional eating, this book is for you. In her wisdom as a licensed professional clinical counselor, the author enumerates methods that have worked for her and her clients over the past twenty years.
About the Author
Meryl Hershey Beck, MA, M.Ed., LPCC spent her early professional life as a high school and community college teacher. In 1990 she became a licensed counselor (LPCC) specializing in 12-Step Recovery and eating disorders and soon designed and implemented a successful outpatient Food Abuse Treatment week. After she discovered energy techniques, Meryl began writing about and teaching energy modalities to mental health practitioners nationwide beginning in 1998. An authority in this field, she has presented at workshops and conferences internationally. Visit her at www.StopEatingYourHeartOut.com.