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Labeling Your Eating Problem Correctly

  • Eating

A client recently had a eureka moment when she realized that she didn’t have an eating problem per se, but a psycho-emotional one that was driving her food abuse. She felt tremendous relief in identifying her actual, underlying problem which pointed the way toward more helpful solutions. Here are some possible problems you might have.

Most disregulated eaters have high anxiety and use food to self-soothe. Eating is a
symptom, not a root cause. Discussing their history, they recognize that family members also have anxiety issues which manifested in drinking, rigidity, a need to control, anger, perfectionism, worry, and people-pleasing. They can see how their anxious parents modeled and generated anxiety in them. The solution is to change anxiety-promoting beliefs, lower stress, and practice self-soothing and stress-reduction techniques.
Troubled eaters often are depressed and use food to generate pleasure and lift their
mood. Usually they can find a thread of depression in their immediate or extended families. Of course, imbalanced neurochemistry can underlie both depression and anxiety. Depression is a combo of genetic inheritance/biochemistry and being raised by emotionally unhealthy parents. The solution involves cognitive restructuring, exercise, and finding short- and long-term pleasure in healthy ways.
Extended grief can also cause troubled eating. The pain of losing and missing a love object can lead people to food to fill the void and mitigate distress. It’s common for people to change their eating—consuming more or less—when going through grief. The solution begins with acknowledging and experiencing feelings and getting support.

Although my above-mentioned client’s realization about having an anxiety problem relieved her, other clients feel upset. To believe they have an eating problem feels more comfortable than acknowledging having a psychological or emotional one. The former sounds so commonplace and superficial, while the latter only reinforces mistaken beliefs about being defective and unfixable. However, the truth is that unless and until you label root causes correctly, you may continue to focus only on food-related solutions and not progress very far toward “normal” eating. Even if it makes you uncomfortable, please take some time to consider whether you might have depression, general anxiety, or are suffering from extended grief. If so, put attention on resolving these issues and your eating problems will start to take care of themselves.