At one point of my life I thought DNA made me fat. I was very young then and it seemed to me my extra pounds were the result of a random inheritance, like green eyes or height. My father was big, both my grandmothers were heavy and one of my uncles could be described as “comfortably cuddly”. Of course that meant my sister, my mother, and my other relations had been gifted with the “skinny” gene, so I figured I had no choice in the matter. Mama got rid of those illusions. Fat happened when more calories went in than energy went out, she said, and pointed out that my svelte little sister was one of those children that never stood still. Once I started eating less and moving more, my days as a fatty would be over.
Well, they weren’t. I started a multitude of diets, upped my exercise and periodically lost hundreds of pounds through the years, all of which returned with interest each time my newest reduction plan stopped. It got so I was miserable while I was losing weight, obsessed by every calorie and scale-revealing ounce and I was even more miserable fat. My eating habits got, if anything, worse, my weight loss efforts landed me in the hospital at least once and my appearance/health eventually turned into a radioactive subject. I knew the extra weight was killing me and I knew what was causing it, but I couldn’t understand why, with all this knowledge, I still engaged in these destructive behaviors.
This was when I found Geneen Roth’s Feeding the Hungry Heart, her groundbreaking book about compulsive overeaters. These folks (and I am one) have unconsciously turned a normal, necessary activity (eating) into a way of avoiding and (ironically) reinforcing negative emotions. It’s a simple, hellish tango of flawed logic. Follow me through the dance steps:
- I’m feeling lonely, sad, stressed, or depressed (This is first position)
- I don’t like the way I feel. (turn)
- I eat until I don’t feel anything but full (lunge)
- Now I feel worse with the binge-caused guilt and remorse overlaying the original problem (return to first position)
- And the only relief I know is to….(slide/backstep toward)
Begin Eating again
Feeding the Hungry Heart helps the Compulsive Overeater identify the emotional triggers that start a binge cycle and work through the feelings instead of dulling them with calories. It replaces calorie obsession and grazing with Mindful Eating (being aware of all the flavors and textures of a meal instead of grazing) and the negative self-body image most Compulsive Overeaters have with Acceptance of yourself and Life as it is Right Now. Basically, it helps remove the emotional obstacles interfering with the attempts to address a physical problem.
If this sounds too New Age-y for you to relate to, no problem. Not everyone who overeats is a Compulsive Overeater. If you are, reading this book won’t magically solve all your problems. Recovery takes time and a lot of work. But it will let you know you are not alone and that there is a dance you can do besides the binge/guilt tango. And sometimes, knowing there is hope is enough to begin again.