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Speak Up, Don’t Eat Up

Unfortunately, disregulated eaters tend to think in extremes about more than food and exercise. In my experience, they view many aspects of life in polar opposition. Here’s an example of common, all-or-nothing thinking and behavior around communication and what you can do to improve it, your life, and your eating.

A former client had been coming to a slow boil over her marriage for years. She’d finally tired of her husband’s frequent put downs, attempts to undermine her self-confidence, and shaming her in front of other people. For decades, she’d suffered in silence from his sharp tongue, tantrums, and unwillingness to have a civil discussion about their relationship. No surprise that when she had felt hurt by his cruelty, she had held her tongue and generally turned to food to comfort herself. (I wonder how many of you will read this sentence and heave a sad sigh of recognition.)

As we worked together, she came to understand that being intimidated by his childish outbursts had less to do with him than with her fears. Using anger is how he managed to keep power in their relationship, how he’d manipulated her into remaining silent and obedient. Finally, she got mad, really mad, and began looking for a fight in which she could let out all the rage she’d suppressed for decades. She started yelling back at him and endless arguments followed. Though she felt better letting out her feelings, arguing upset her and she was exhausted after each fight, and turned to food for reregulation.

As you may know, neither extreme of silence nor screaming—nor stuffing anger down with food--are unusual for disregulated eaters. Both tactics are learned as children, but there are better ways to handle emotions as adults. When our parents upset us, we raged at them, stuck a thumb in our mouths and sat in the corner defiantly refusing to interact with anyone, headed for our rooms and sulked—or ate. Maybe our parents even modeled these kinds of behavior with us or with each other or our siblings.

Some better options: How about sharing your hurt, laying it all out even though it makes you feel vulnerable? When you open up your heart this way, you are truly reaching out to touch someone else’s heart so he or she can understand and feel your pain. What about calmly and firmly insisting (and meaning it!) that you will not allow yourself to be talked down to any more, not for one minute, not for one second? What about giving an ultimatum? There’s a long road between silence and screaming and many stops along the way that work better than either one. And all of them work better than eating.