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Food as Obsession


A client was describing to me what it was like for her when she used to be obsessed with food, said now from a vantage point of being a far more “normal” eater. She joked about how she used to be, but I could hear the pain in her voice as she remembered. Her description also brought me back to my binge-eating days which could not be more different than my life now. 

My client described her “abnormal” eating days as follows: “I thought about food all day long. I agonized over what to eat, was consumed by the eating process and, post-eating, spent endless time ruminating about what or how much I’d eaten 24/7/365.”

This description reminded me of how I was always mentally in two places as a dysregulated eater. I was in reality—at work, with friends or family, skiing, dancing, watching TV or going to the movies, or doing something in the real world—and also in my head thinking about food. I might have looked as if I were listening intently as you described your break-up with your boyfriend, but I was really thinking about what I’d eat after we went our separate ways and whether I had anything to snack on when I got home. I probably seemed as if I was focused on my job, but I also was raking myself over the coals about the quart of ice cream I ate (again) the night before. People likely thought I was chatting up a storm over dinner, when I was really focused on how much I was eating, how I couldn’t stop and hated myself for my failing. 

When I talk with clients about this non-stop thinking about eating, we wonder how our obsession could have made us consume not only so much food, but how it ate up so much of our mental space. One client felt sad about all she must have missed out on being so preoccupied with eating. Most were excited about all the new things they were thinking about that were making their lives better: new hobbies, people, ideas. 

Without a food obsession, their lives are far from empty now. In fact, they’re fuller than ever—and more fulfilling. These are the things they’re doing—taking an art class, moving to another country, dating, enjoying time with new friends, learning guitar, writing poetry, taking singing lessons, training their first pet, and going back to school.

A food obsession is a place holder. It keeps you running around in circles going nowhere chasing your tail. It keeps your fears at bay, but it also keeps your joys from remaining out of reach because that’s where overcoming your fears would take you. Whatever is on their mind now or what their life is like, I’ve never met a client who has overcome a food obsession and is not thrilled with relief and filled with joy.