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Food and Relationships

Many disregulated eaters developed dysfunctional eating styles when they were children. Instead of being able to turn to people when they were in distress, they ended up running to the refrigerator. Maybe the whole family stuffed their emotions this way rather than share them. Or obsessed about calories, exercise and appearance to bind their anxiety rather than depend on each other. Or used food to cope with stress because they lacked effective life skills.

If you are someone who chooses food over people, I’d like you to think about how you can stop relying on eating to manage your feelings and start relying on friends and family. I know this is a tall order. Clients often tell me that: there’s no one in life they can trust or count on, they don’t want to be a burden, friends have their own problems and don’t have time to listen to them, they don’t feel safe sharing deep, intimate feelings with many—if any—folks. Can you see how this sets you up for having food problems?

Consider the emotions or issues which trigger your eating and what food does for you in each instance. Let’s say you’re stressed from work or taking care of the kids all day and seek out food. Instead, who could you turn to? Why couldn’t you call or email a friend and vent for a bit? Or say you’re lonely sitting at home with nothing to do on a weekend night. Why not reach out to someone and ask about getting together? Or maybe your spouse ignores and neglects you and that makes you feel insignificant and worthless. How about speaking up and insisting on appropriate attention?

I know, I know, it’s harder to do these alternatives than to eat. Food is right there and won’t disappoint you (in the moment). It won’t talk back or sulk or yell at you or not be home when you want it to be. But to recover from eating problems, you must challenge yourself and develop life skills with people that will make you more comfortable in all of the above situations. And how do you develop these skills? Not by eating which is a familiar behavior, but by doing the work that’s difficult, moving outside of your comfort zone little by little and relying on people.

When I ask clients to start pushing their comfort envelope, they often say, “It’s hard.” My response is that of course it’s hard. If it were easy they would have done it before and I wouldn’t have to keep at them to do it. My job—and yours as an adult—is to get you to do the hard, uncomfortable work to break food abuse patterns. Instead of thinking of change as scary, think about it as the only way you’ll recover from eating problems.