Patricia Redlich

Friday, January 22, 2010

I Am Hooked On Food

I've been struggling with food for the past 15 years. I am now thirty, newly married and truly ready to develop a healthy relationship with food. But I'm finding this very difficult. As a teenager I was anorexic and to-day I struggle with binge or emotional eating. I just can't seem to eat normally.

I have attended counsellors, doctors and support groups over the years. It helped, as I am now aware of my chaotic relationship with food and I know that recovery is possible. However, whatever is needed to recover just hasn't clicked with me. As soon as I face a crisis, be it major or minor, food is what I turn to, to sooth myself with, or to punish myself with through starvation.

I feel I'm on information overload when it comes to eating disorders. Honestly I could write a book about them. But I can't seem to break free and move on with my life. My real problem right now is that I'm very overweight due to binge eating and this makes me very unhappy.

No matter what I tell myself, my weight still measures my self-worth. I know the sensible thing to do would be to go on a healthy diet and lose the pounds. However I really don't want to go down the dieting route as in the past this has sent me into a state of anxiety while I obsess over everything that I eat.

How do I become a normal eater and maintain a normal weight without causing myself so much misery? My husband is a great man and I want to enjoy our marriage. But I'm so preoccupied with my own problems that I am moody and withdrawn towards him. He doesn't know what to make of me as I've kept my eating problems secret for all these years. Please help.

You're addicted. The bad news is that because your addiction is food, you can't simply give it up. The good news is that precisely because it is food, you can clearly see that addiction is emotional. Alcoholism isn't about alcohol. It's about how we feel. The same applies to the abuse of drugs, illegal or prescribed. What drives us to misuse substances is psychological distress. For what it's worth in terms of enlightenment, the same applies to workaholics, or those hooked on the high of excessive exercise.

Excess is of the mind. The substance, or behaviour, we choose is merely a matter of accident or opportunity or circumstance. So you are right. Forget the food. Ditch any notion of diet. The focus on food is just a distraction.

One of the reasons I liked Freud was because he understood the nature of compulsion. As long as someone goes on doing what he's doing, he can avoid the real emotional issues which drive him. If you keep getting angry as your first line of defence, or keep giving in for the sake of peace, you miss the real point. It's only when we give up a habitual response that we can see what fuels it, face the demons that drive it. Which is why a person has to stop drinking, or doing drugs, or working ridiculously long hours, or being a total doormat, or using her fists, in order to deal with the self-hatred, fear and justifiable anger which lies buried in her heart.

You can see the difficulty with an eating disorder when it comes to discovering what lies behind it. You can't stop eating. Controlling the eating just intensifies the focus on food. It's a compulsion which is hard to handle, not because the issues are more serious, but because you can't stop the compulsive behaviour. That makes it harder to face the fear.

Don't let that daunt you. If we've lost our temper all our lives or been a doormat all our lives, that's hard to rectify too. Sometimes giving in is the right thing to do. So is justifiable anger. So is working long hours for that matter. It isn't always appropriate to stop these behaviours. Yet if our lives are a misery as a result, we have to look at our souls, hearts and minds to hear what's really going on. And we have to do so without the clarity of feelings such as fear, anxiety and anger, which surface quickly once a compulsion is halted.
You don't measure your self-worth in terms of your weight. You're holding anger and anxiety at bay by doing a control routine with food. Comfort eating is a substitute for handling the pain. So what's the pain? That's the only question.

As I'm sure you know, I'm a big fan of secrets. People tell too much to-day, just as they told too little in times past. I'm not sure, though, that keeping your husband in the dark about your despair is a good idea. Lack of communication is damaging to any relationship. On top of that, I'm guessing that to some extent it's shame which keeps you silent. To which my question is: What is there to be ashamed of? Something damaged you so badly in your youth that the scars still hurt enormously. Anyone who loves you will feel concern, not contempt. And no, I'm not letting you off the hook. Of course you're responsible for yourself, and must tackle your despair. But a little help from someone who loves you might be nice too.

You may also have kept the secret because you're afraid of losing control, of being seen as someone who is weak and can be walked on, or taken over. Except you're not really in control anyway right now are you? Oh I know you've been making superhuman efforts over the last 15 years. It's just that sometimes we misuse our strength, are truly brave, fight unbelievable battles, but on the wrong front.

Go see a serious therapist. And consider at least letting your husband in on some of your misery, so he won't misunderstand your emotional withdrawal. It might also help to go to a good acupuncturist. After all, the mind and body are one. And sometimes we can access emotional problems through treating the body, just as we can access physical problems through treating the mind and soul.
Irish based professional therapist and journalist. Website By : Deise Design