Everyone deals with emotions differently, whether or not they have a problem with food. According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, some people prefer to ground themselves in their feelings in order to make their perceptions and decisions in the world. Others are “thinking” types, who may prefer to detach from their emotions and approach life on a more intellectual basis.
People who struggle with food and body image issues don’t just detach from emotions, they may even run from them. Yet they don’t particularly want to approach their problems from a thinking place, either. They simply struggle to cope with some emotional situations.
Whether it’s a high-stress situation such as dealing with trauma or abuse (anger, fear, etc.), a seemingly harmless experience such as a day off (boredom, indecision, etc.), or “positive” stress such as going to a party or winning a contest (excitement, adrenalin, etc.), they find it extremely uncomfortable to feel their feelings.
This repeated cycle leaves them cut off from a full living experience. They’re usually well aware of this, promising themselves (and sometimes others) that as soon as they reach some “ideal” body size or stop purging, they’ll start to live.
All of this is why we say that emotional eating is not about the food itself. Yet, when it comes to “food addiction”, it may be about the food. For those who identify as food addicts—who also may be emotional eaters—they may identify a chemical reaction to specific foods and/or an extreme physical craving for those foods. These are typically highly palatable foods.
These are complex issues and that’s why here at the White Picket Fence Counseling Center we are each specially trained to deliver highly individualized treatment geared to your specific problem. And one that takes into account your emotional style.
People struggling with eating disorders need more than just the trite answers of “just eat,” or “just eat less,” or, “try harder.”
Recovery from emotional eating requires both structure and support. By structure, we do not mean rigidity. Food plans, daily schedules, and group meetings are all used as tools, but what’s most important is that those tools are meeting your needs and fit with where you’re at today.
And by support, we mean people who either understand or get how to be supportive. There are support groups made up of individuals with common issues and solutions. There are friends who will hang out with you, even when you struggle, and will not make any big demands on you. There could be family members who are willing to learn more about what you are going through and will be there with you in the muck. They will listen and work with you, not stay focused on their own agenda.
And there are counselors to help. Find someone specifically trained in what you are struggling with. We all have our areas of expertise and our limitations. If we can’t help, we can direct you to resources where you can find someone.
For emotional eaters who are considering bariatric surgery, take note. While this might seem like a quick and viable solution, surgery cannot remove emotional eating. Maintaining will be very challenging if you have not addressed your emotional eating in therapy.
Recovery from emotional eating is not easy, and there truly is no quick fix. But if you start where you are, stay gentle with yourself, and enlist the right kind of support, you can experience the freedom of recovery.