There are times we all eat too much. Thanksgiving certainly comes to mind and its close friend “all of December”. Maybe when you’ve had a bit of alcohol and relaxed your healthy choices and then didn’t ask for a doggie bag when faced with a huge restaurant meal? Over eating happens, but more often it is anxiety driving you when you are home alone after a long difficult day. Maybe you are eating in private when you can stuff down feelings by stuffing down food? Lonely? Angry? In a difficult relationship, or no relationship, do you feel a bit lost, left out? These feelings cause anxiety and feeling uneasy for us all.
Everyone knows food has mood altering qualities and it can make us feel better, especially if it is rich, sweet and abundant. We rarely turn to plain kale when upset. Eating to quell anxiety and eating for emotional reasons happen to be normal. “From the moment we’re born, we’re nurtured with food, rewarded with food, and so emotional connections to food are normal,” says Michelle May, MD, author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat. The older book, What’s Eating You, by Eugene Kaplan, says the same.
Too Often We Use Food As A Recreational Drug
When you eat too much, too often as a way to feel better, or more specifically, in order to not feel your discomfort, you get fat. You get very unhealthy. You get upset about how you look and how your clothes fit. Then you get a new problem to deal with: negative body imagine. Often then your doctor says your test results don’t look good and you are pre-diabetic or worse. You are not as attractive to the opposite sex and you often start to hate not only the way you look, but also hate yourself. You feel awful about the situation and so you eat some more to feel better, or to be distracted, and suddenly you realize your eating is out of control – in terms of choice, amount and frequency.
And then you may well discover that you are depressed and unhappy. You have created a whole new set of ANXIETY feelings, unhappy thoughts and you may eventually be diagnosed with DEPRESSION during this unfortunate cycle. Which came first?
So…let me say that there is help for you and you don’t have to deal with this alone.
Millions of people in the US alone have this problem, but the fact that you are reading this means that you are looking for help and a healthier, happier way. Therapy can make all the difference. In fact, research shows that it can be very hard to conquer this entirely on your own, especially if there are deep-rooted emotional problems involved, trauma or you have never been supported in learning to tolerate negative feelings. A good therapist can help you uncover the psychological triggers that you may be unaware of that are seriously undermining you. Clinical support can make all the difference in success for many.
If you meditate, or have ever tried to, you know that unwanted thoughts crop up constantly and you know that if you just think, “I see you, you can go on now.”, they will leave. In fact, you can’t stop them. The thought, and any feeling you might have attached to it, will go whether you want it to or not. A new thought will come right along interrupting the stillness and the blissful rest meditation can provide. Oddly, the same is true with negative feelings. If you just say, “I see you and you can go now.”, you can be assured that the feeling will leave and you CAN cope with the feeling until it does leave. You CAN experience it for a bit and it will dissipate. That is, if you do not choose to dwell on it, obsess on it and thereby encourage it to stay. It is very empowering to stop, feel a feeling and just let it die down when you stare it in the face. Just try it. What have you got to lose?
Many who overeat chronically may well have developed BED, which is how clinicians refer to Binge Eating Disorder. We can formally diagnose it as such if you eat large amounts of food in a relatively short period of time, feel guilt or shame after and that you do this at least once a week for at least three months or more.
People usually pick high fat or high sugar items to stuff down their feelings. One problem with this (and why you feel SO physically bad afterwards) is the effect this has on blood sugar, which rises quickly and you do feel better – no question. But then you feel much worse soon afterwards because the body rushes to try to compensate for this dangerous overload, causing blood sugar to drop. What happens next? Intense cravings for more of the same! This is the perfect path to diabetes, which changes your life forever, shortening your life, affecting your sex life, downgrading the quality of your life. Sadly, this happens to many.
I find that when I have white carbs or sugar for breakfast (oatmeal or a muffin or toast with jam), or any other meal, I want more quite soon afterwards. It always surprises me but I recognize what just happened. However, if I ate those foods regularly, I might not be able to notice what was going on because it would have already become familiar to me and not so noticeable.
If you adjust your diet to add healthier foods that you like, ask yourself this: “Would I feed this, or a large serving, to a beloved toddler?” “Do I want anyone I admire to seeing me eating this, or eating so much of this?”
Often we don’t think of what we are doing to ourselves and how it looks. Surprise! Your unconscious mind, and mine, are well aware of what we are doing and that is another reason bad feelings follow – it does not go unnoticed.
If you can make it work in your circumstances, eating with others may help. Overeating likes to be alone and not be seen by others. Just like addiction, it grows in the dark and doesn’t like others to observe it going on.
There Is No Magic Fix
Sorry to say, there is no one magic pill or magic food that will stop this cycle. If that were true, you would have bought it long ago and would not be reading this, but many actions (large and small) can make a big difference.
To recap some practical beginnings of change:
- Numerous studies show that vinegar (yes, apple cider vinegar & the other less harsh tasting ones) has some benefit to make you filled if used in a salad before your meal. It helps lessen the effect of naturally occurring carbs (no, not extra helpings of bread) and defends against blood sugar spikes – plus eating the salad first lessens your overall calorie intake. Some research indicates it helps to stave off D2 (diabetes 2). However, vinegar is not magical. It is just helpful. Don’t take it on an empty stomach, or swallow it straight or you will truly be sorry.
- Feeling your feelings will change your life – and yes, you can handle it. What you feel will dissipate. You don’t have to hide from them or stuff them down with food. Using food as your drug, never works. Just as turning on the light when you first come home, makes it less scary and you feel safer, and so will letting your feelings come into the bright light of day. You might as well, because if you eat two pieces of cake, for example, you will only feel good a short while and then you will feel much worse anyway – and you will get fat, something else to feel bad about. I’m not being flip, this really is the cycle for far too many. If it is too scary just to feel uncomfortable feelings and thoughts, see a good therapist ASAP and get support. Get free so you can enjoy a good, healthy life.
- Begin to incorporate healthier foods so you will be squeezing out how much room there is in your stomach for choices that will make you feel physically bad and feel bad about yourself. Don’t start the latest craze diet or highly restrictive diet with too many “dont’s”. Come on, you’ve tried them before and they didn’t work (they may have even made your binge eating worse) and when they failed you again, you felt really bad about yourself. Start by being kind to yourself and finding more and more healthy foods that you do like and eat them more often. If your stomach is full of healthy food that doesn’t play havoc with your blood sugar, it is much easier to resist or not even think of having two desserts or a whole bag of potato chips while watching TV after dinner. That may have become a habit you can eliminate. Also, if you stuff yourself on a stomach full of healthy food, there will likely be a rapid consequence to discourage it in the future.
Keep reading this blog for more articles to help you, as beating this problem is critical to us all. You don’t have to fight this alone. Keep help and support.
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Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.
Sharon Valentino, Valentino Therapy, CA LMFT, MA, ChT, Psychotherapist
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (51746)
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