Every week, at least one of my clients tells me that she overate or ate mindlessly. When I ask why, she inevitably sounds like she thinks I’m awfully dumb for an eating disorders therapist and says something like, “Because it tasted so good, I just couldn’t stop myself.” And I think to myself, “No, no, no. That’s not the reason. Sure, it might have tasted delicious, but you didn’t eat it because of that. You ate it because...”
First, because you don’t have enough things in your life that make you swoon, that cause your heart to sing, that trip your dopamine switch and keep that magical chemical swirling around your brain until you’re ready to make a smooth landing back on earth. You go crazy with food because you have such a paucity of daily pleasure in your life—or you have it but don’t know it’s there—that food has become your go-to joy maker.
Second and related to the above, because you have longings, some that you know you have and others that you don’t acknowledge even to yourself because you think, “What’s the point?” You want to love or have a lover, play music, own a home, bear children, return to school, travel, create art, move your body, dump your mate, make new friends, enjoy an adventure, or write a novel. You want to belong or to be left alone.
Third, because you’re convinced that whatever food you’re having a love fest with won’t be there for you to eat later or tomorrow or ever again. You’re used to dieting and you’ll be damned if you’ll give up one bite of what you love because you fear you’ll never have another chance to enjoy it. That’s because you’ve been dieting for way too long and have a last-supper mentality that doesn’t support “normal” eating.
Fourth, because you don’t challenge your ridiculous thoughts—such as “There are certain foods I have eat” —to see if they’re helpful and life-enhancing or harmful and destructive. Instead, you just let some impulse swoop by, scoop you up, and carry you away. You don’t tell the idea to cut it out, stop acting silly, and put you down this minute. You don’t insist that the adult within you run the show. Rather, you let rational thinking stand idly by while you crash and burn.
Fifth, because you aren’t thinking 24/7 of self-care. What, you may exclaim, think about taking care of myself every minute of every day! How exhausting, what a chore, what a bore, and isn’t that sort of selfish? Bulletin: Self-care is a full-time, year-round job with no vacations. Sometimes self-care is splitting a hot fudge sundae with a friend and sometimes it’s a nap, sometimes it’s buying a new sweater and sometimes it’s throwing out the ones. It’s all about thinking of what’s best for you because, if you don’t, who will?
Of course food tastes good, even soooooooooo good, but many other things bring us untold pleasure and we still know when to stop. Do you go to a job or do you stay home and have sex (by yourself or with someone else) all day long? Do you put aside your pleasure if your child or elderly parent or a good friend needs you? Do you understand that too much of a good thing isn’t actually a good thing at all? Please do me a favor and stop telling yourself how good food tastes and that’s why you eat it. The truth is much more complicated than that.