If you’re reaching for food when you’re not hungry.
If you’re eating beyond the point that your body says it’s had enough.
If you’re standing alone in a dark kitchen bingeing for Britain.
It’s not food you really need.
When I meet clients for the first time, they’re usually angry with themselves about their overeating. They feel baffled and frustrated by their seemingly mindless behaviour. When we begin to explore their experiences, however, inevitably we discover that there are very good reasons why they eat the way they do.
One of the biggest reasons is compensation.
So often we use food as compensation for what we really need.
Maybe you’re tired but judge yourself as lazy if you rest. Maybe you’re upset and you need comfort but don’t know how to soothe yourself. Maybe you’re bored but believe you can’t live a fuller life until you’ve lost weight. Maybe you think it’s your job to look after everyone else but selfish if you care about yourself. Maybe you’d love to have some fun, let your hair down, blow off some steam but feel you don’t deserve to.
Perhaps the need is bigger. Maybe you hate your job but feel trapped. Maybe someone close to you treats you badly but you feel you can’t stand up for yourself because of how they’ll react. Maybe you don’t enjoy being a full-time parent. Maybe you have a sneaking suspicion that you no longer want to be married to your husband or wife.
All these needs require our attention. But rather than meet them or explore them we reach instead for food.
Food is our compensation for not meeting our real needs. Food is the quick fix, something we can give ourselves when no one’s looking. It means we can hurriedly quash our fear, anger, resentment, suppress our wants and keep going.
Because keeping going is what it’s all about for people with emotion-driven overeating. “Soldier on” is our motto. “Forget your feelings, ignore your needs and keep on truckin’” is our collective bumper sticker.
Often clients started turning to food when they were children because their emotional needs were not being met by the adults around them. And not only were their needs not met, they were often shamed for having them. As a consequence, they learnt to use food to make themselves feel better and they’re still doing it now – even though they may be in their 30’s or 50’s or even 70’s.
But that was then and this is now.
You don’t have to keep denying your needs. And you can’t afford to if you want to resolve your overeating issues.
If there’s something in you that needs your attention but you ignore it, you will find yourself reaching for food time and time again. “I’m unhappy”. Get me the food. “I feel really sad”. Get me the food. “I’m so lonely”. Get me the food.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. What if you rest when you’re tired? What if you make yourself a soothing hot drink and wrap yourself in a blanket when you need comfort? What if you get out and have some fun? What if you talk to someone you trust about your unhappy marriage?
Next time you find yourself eating when you know you’re not hungry, try to ask yourself what it is you really need. Or if you’ve had a binge, rather than beat yourself up about it, maybe investigate what it was all about. What was the need you were compensating for?
Finally, let me assure you that it’s not selfish to meet your needs. Being selfish is at someone else’s expense. Looking after yourself emotionally only benefits you and those around you. It doesn’t mean you stop caring about other people.
It just means you care about yourself as well.