“The fundamental problem is that if we have not been appropriately soothed and have not had carers who have sufficiently helped us to manage our feelings, we are likely to have great difficulty managing them as we grow up and in adult life*. We badly need the skills of emotional regulation because otherwise we are at the mercy of our feelings…
Many people, of whom you may be one, self-soothe not with words and compassion but with substances and activities. The compulsive exerciser is making himself feel better by his exertion; the drug addict or problem drinker is using substances to escape from feelings he can’t manage; the person with disordered eating is using her preoccupation with food, weight, shape and size to deal with feelings that she doesn’t know how to manage in any other way.”
– Julie Buckroyd, “Understanding Your Eating”
Such is the stigma around fat bodies that people who binge eat aren’t usually considered in the same way as others who struggle with addiction. There’s rarely the same empathy and compassion offered to people with overeating issues as those battling alcohol or drugs.
Instead, assumptions are made that the individual is simply greedy or lacks the intelligence to comprehend what it means to “eat healthily”. They have no will power and should just stop eating so much.
This lack of understanding adds insult to what is already a terrible psychological injury.
As someone who struggled with binge eating for decades, I can tell you the general ignorance and intolerance of this issue only added to my pain and sense of isolation.
The truth is anything mood-altering can be addictive – alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, exercise, daydreaming.
It’s hard for people who binge eat to learn to relate to themselves with compassion and empathy when society doesn’t.
And yet that’s exactly what it takes to heal.
Instead of judgment and condemnation, we need acceptance and understanding to navigate this complex psychological issue. Not only from ourselves, but society at large.
After all, we can’t abstain from food as we can alcohol or drugs. We have to learn to make peace with food and find the way to eat that’s right for us.
We also have to learn to accept and appreciate our bodies so we’re compelled to care for them.
And we have to learn to soothe ourselves appropriately and effectively – with words and compassion, not substances.
Buckroyd, J. (2011), Understanding Your Eating: How to Eat and Not Worry about it. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
*Goleman, D. (1996), Emotional Intelligence. London: Boomsbury.
We’ll be exploring “How Do You Soothe Yourself without Food?” at this month’s eatonomy group session on Saturday 29th February. If you’d like to join us, please see the Community page for more details. You can use the Contact form to book a place.