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When You Can’t Get What You Really Want, You Eat

When dysregulated eaters think they can’t get what they really want in life, they too often turn to food. They’re not hungry (not a smidge!), but end up on a mission to find something edible to satisfy them. And heaven help anyone who gets in their way. I know just what this process is like because I used to engage in it all the time.

When we turn to food mindlessly, sometimes we know what we actually desire and sometimes we don’t. All we are certain of is that some big thing is missing in our lives and we think food will do the trick for now. Now can be all that matters when you have this kind of overpowering urge. It feels like there’s no time to investigate emotional needs, no ability to focus on what’s really missing in life. It’s too hard and frustrating and food is right there beckoning. So we never discover what we wanted except that, after we finish our mindless eating, we know for certain that food definitely was not it.

Other times, we know exactly what’s lacking in our lives—love, passion, connection, fun, pleasure, meaning—but feel as if it’s so far beyond our reach that we’ll never get it. Go out and find a mate? Too much effort and too many failures to bother. Do something fun? But what and with whom? We don’t even know what brings us pleasure any more, we’re so used to chewing and swallowing what passes for fun. Where would we begin to find something else so easy to access—and cheap, to boot. Seek companionship? Are you kidding? Not after all those rejections and abandonments and people we thought understood or loved us, but never really did. All that work, just to get a kick in the pants. Easier to finish tonight’s leftovers, hate yourself for a while, and hit the sack.

If these descriptions sound like you, stop a minute and say hello to yourself. You’ve been burned and hurt too often and reflecting on what would really make you happy—never mind actually going out and finding it—seems totally out of the question. So much easier to stuff your face and stuff down your desires. What you’re doing is not wrong and doesn’t make you a bad person. It’s just terribly sad because eating when you’re not hungry is a waste of your time and your precious life because you’re not really living it. Eating mindlessly to fill up the hole in your heart is no life at all.

To have a joyful life and meet your human longings, you’ll need to come to terms with your fears. There’s no other way to get what you desire and deserve. It will never be there in food. But it’s out there in the world if you’ll give yourself another chance. Call a friend or a therapist, join a support group, or go a retreat. Choose life: yours.