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|In Consultation - Page 2|
The Root Causes of Overeating
According to the nondiet philosophy, the major causes of overeating are deprivation caused by diets and the use of food to manage feelings. When a new client comes to me, she'll often be aware that there's an emotional aspect to her overeating. Most of my clients express deep concern over the weight gain that accompanies their overeating. Most are eager to figure out how to control their food intake. I start by helping them understand how they're translating the language of feelings to the language of food and fat. I explain that, even though it may seem that they're eating because they feel sad, angry, lonely, bored, or even happy, it isn't actually the feeling itself that leads to the desire to eat. Rather, it's the inability to sit with a feeling that triggers the need to reach for food.
Take the case of Julia, who's had a difficult day at work. Her boss just gave her a new assignment, which requires a large commitment of time. She already feels overwhelmed by the work that several other people in the office have asked her to do. However, she doesn't want to undermine her chances for promotion, so she agrees to take the project on.
When Julia arrives home, she heads straight for the kitchen. She eats a bag of potato chips, followed by half a box of cookies. As she eats, she begins to reprimand herself. "You slob! Your stomach is getting so big, and here you are out of control again. No wonder your pants are too tight! No wonder everyone treats you so badly! Look how you treat yourself. You're too fat, and you have to do something about it now! You'd better go back on your diet and get this under control."
Julia has just made a translation from the language of feelings to the language of food and fat. When her boss gave her a new assignment, she felt angry. She believed she was being treated unfairly, but she was unable to speak up for herself. However, it wasn't her anger that led to her overeating: it was her inability to tolerate the anger. Reaching for food at that moment was an attempt to calm herself, because her anger was unacceptable to her. She may have had a clue that she was upset, but she couldn't handle her emotions. Or like other compulsive eaters, she may have found herself eating, but had no idea what was bothering her, or even that something was bothering her.
As I discuss with my clients the process of avoiding feelings through food, I urge them to become compassionate with themselves. When they reach for food to manage feelings, they're trying to help themselves in a time of distress—which is a positive action. Nevertheless, it's the wrong solution to their difficulties, just as rubbing ice cream on a cut knee would be. As they stop castigating themselves, they find that the bingeing decreases. They learn to say to themselves instead, "I'm reaching for food, and I'm not hungry. Something must be bothering me right now, and this is the best way I have to deal with it. I look forward to the day when I no longer need to do that."