Anxiety and Eating
Most of my clients with disregulated eating worry a good deal about doing things right, being “good,” pleasing others, and the future turning out okay. And these anxieties drive non-hunger eating. Moreover, feeling weak, inept and defective that they can’t better “control” their worries causes them additional anxiety. A helpful book, one I read recently, is My Age of Anxiety—Fear, hope, dread, and the search for peace of mind by Scott Stossel (2013, Alfred A. Knopf: NY). It may not reduce your anxiety per se but it will lessen your belief that it’s all your fault and that there’s nothing you can do about it.
Referring to genetic studies, Stossel says, “Research like this suggests that your susceptibility to nervous breakdown is strongly determined by your genes. Certain genotypes make you especially vulnerable to psychology breakdown when subjected to stress or trauma; other genotypes make you naturally resilient…certain gene combinations program you to have either a high or a low level of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) activity: If you were born with a sensitive autonomic nervous system and then get exposed to stress in early childhood your HPA system gets sensitized even further, so it’s always hyperactive later in life, producing an excessively twitchy amygdala—which in turn primes you to develop depression or anxiety disorders.”
Stossel is talking about what I call the double whammy: your parents pass down a gene combination making you prone toward anxiety and depression (conditions which share many of the same neurotransmitter imbalances), then you’re raised by these very same anxious or depressed people. But, you may ask, why isn’t my sister or brother as anxious as I am or, more importantly, why don’t they eat when they’re upset as I do? Well, maybe they received a different scrambling of genes than you did which makes them more resilient, or arrived at a better time in the lives of your parents (or parent) which made their lives easier, or got a better deal due to their birth order.
Now, because I’ve talked with clients a good deal about the double whammy, I suspect you may not be feeling terribly relieved by my explanation of how you came to be so full of anxiety. You may believe you’re stuck with personality traits which are slowly doing you in and that knowing they’re partially genetic isn’t exactly good news. My point is to teach you that your tendency toward anxiety (or depression) is not of your own making, neither a character flaw nor a moral defect. It’s a treatable condition that happened to you and nothing to be ashamed of. Once you know that, you can go on out as Stossel did and get the help you need to reduce your anxiety and cope more effectively.