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Does Eating Solve Your Problems?

Many disregulated eaters have convinced themselves that eating solves their problems, or at least extinguishes the distress they have about their problems. Really? I’m of the opinion that eating to solve problems only causes more of them.

I’m not saying that when you were a child eating didn’t make you feel better emotionally. Back then when you overate, binged or snacked in secret, you might have felt comforted without the guilt, shame or disappointment in yourself that you feel today when you engage in these behaviors. When your problem was, “I’m in emotional pain and I have no other way of soothing myself,” eating came in very handy. Maybe overeating helped you tune out the nightly battles between your parents at dinnertime, or crawling under the covers and snarfing down candy bars provided you with a bit of sweetness in a life that was full of bitterness, or maybe being a good eater was one of the few ways you received praise from your parents, so you went at it with gusto.

We could say that your problem then was not only emotional distress, but the severely limited ways you had to manage it. As a young child, you couldn’t very well escape when your parents were fighting nor could you, without becoming the target of their rage, step in and request or demand that they quit it because it was unbearably distressing to you. If your life was dreary and you were depressed because you were neglected, you couldn’t go out and seek other kinds of pleasures and perhaps even felt lucky that food was available to lift your spirits. When your parents praised you for eating multiple helpings of food, you didn’t have the perspective or autonomy to recognize what harm they were causing and refuse to overeat or clean your plate.

Are your life problems today really the same as they were yesterday? Moreover, do you have the same limits on your actions as you did when you were young? Of course not. When a friend disappoints you now, it’s not the same as your parents repeated failing to attend your school or sports events. When someone criticizes you now, it’s not the same as being regularly shamed by your parents in front of your peers. When you don’t get the job you applied for now, that’s nowhere as painful as believing as a child (true or not) that your parents didn’t love you because you weren’t smart enough to love.

It’s time to stop applying the food solution used for childhood problems to your adult ones. Food may have been the answer to distress back then because you had darned few remedies. But now you have less severe problems and far better solution options.