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How Co-dependence Leads to Non-hunger Eating


A discussion with a client who was having difficulty finding enough pleasure during the COVID pandemic got me thinking about what makes for resilience under stress. Why are some people thriving and others going down hill fast? Why are some people enjoying having time to themselves and others feeling depressed or frantic?

Part of the problem is due to co-dependence. My client even described the state by saying, “I always focused on other people and got pleasure from doing that. My parents never encouraged me to think about what I wanted and so I never did. Now that I’m alone and have all this time to myself, I have no idea what to do with it.” This led to talking about how co-dependence—over-focusing on the needs and wants of others to the exclusion of your own—left her lacking skills in her current situation. Fortunately, she was eager to discuss what might bring her pleasure right now. 

Unfortunately, for many clients, the answer is food and only food. It asks nothing of you and you tell yourself that it’s fine to eat food because “everyone has to eat, don’t they?” The problem is that you may never have developed other hobbies and passions that brought you pleasure because you were so busy meeting the needs of others. Even the idea of doing something for pleasure may make you uneasy. I have a client who feels so guilty reading for enjoyment that I had to give her a homework assignment to sit in a chair and do nothing but read for 15 minutes every day between sessions.

Some troubled eaters are stuck in guilt-ridden uneasiness. When they seek pleasure for themselves they feel they’re doing something wrong or unproductive. This reaction comes from growing up in a dysfunctional family where children are told they’re bad or selfish when they focus on their own self-care or desires. The truth is that learning what makes us tick is crucial to normal, healthy development.

Other troubled eaters claim they don’t feel guilty seeking pleasure but are stumped about what would float their boat. They are overwhelmed by the choices before them, afraid they’ll pick an activity that’s wrong for them. Rather than move forward by trial and error, they do nothing. Or, rather, they eat to quiet the discomfort they feel about having to make the “right” choice.

Sometimes we eat for nourishment and sometimes for pleasure. But if the latter is your only enjoyment, you may have co-dependent traits and will want to develop new self-care skills. Seeking pleasure in its own right is the only answer. You’ll know it when you come across it because it will hit a sweet spot of enjoyment and deep satisfaction.