Thursday, February 11, 2021

Emotional eating and the brutal truth about obesity, trauma and abuse

This may be my most blunt and controversial post yet. I'm going to debunk the notion that abuse leads to overeating. I recognize that I am on treacherous terrain here. I may come off as harsh or judgmental. I may very well be wrong But I assure you that I write this only to help and heal, not hurt. And I have earned the right to comment about weight loss. I lost 100 pounds and I know every excuse in the book. 

If you watch My 600-lb Life, you know that every episode features patients blaming their obesity on past trauma: death, loss, shame, rape, abuse. They say they turned to food for comfort. Now that I get. But when they say that the need for comfort is the reason they are 600 lb. No. I have been taking apart this theory and just can't get it to fit. Or if it does it is a contrived fit. 

I'm not for moment suggesting the abuse wasn't real. I am in no way suggesting that issues from childhood should not be addressed. I'm not saying that people don't need comfort or that food can't be comforting. In seeking to anesthetize pain, people often turn to dangerous methods: drugs, violence, self-harm, yes perhaps overeating but more often than not, they undereat either to achieve a better self-image or because food just doesn't sound good.

So why is emotional eating so common? And why do people blame weight problems on emotional issues? There are several reasons. Here's where the brutal part comes in.

People have been finding methods to self-soothe for eons. It's only within the last 50 years or so that food has been used so routinely and commonly.  When I was young few were overweight. When my grandparents were young, virtually no one was. It was partially because food was not so readily available in such large quantities. Especially not the nutrition void food that fills our grocery stores and restaurants.

The thing with food that's different from the other self soothers is that it is not inherently dangerous. For goodness sake it's how we survive. Food tastes good. It feels good to eat. We need to eat. But when we develop a habit of overindulging in the wrong things, we also tend not to want to take responsibility for it. We want it to be someone or something else's fault that we can't leave chocolate alone or that consume enough to feed three people. We also don't want to admit that it's an addiction like alcohol or drugs. The same people who are morbidly obese will often decry alcohol as "sinful" and then ignore their own gluttony. 

And food has changed from sustenance to treat based. Look around at 90% of the shelf filler. The majority has virtually no nutritive value. It can't even really be called food. It is disproportionately calorie dense for the amount of nutrition you get. It is filled with addictive ingredients and chemicals: MSG, saturated fat, additives, HFCS and sugar. 

Obese people didn't get where they are eating salads. "Got to have my Brussels sprouts" said no obese person ever. Whenever you see My 600-lb Life participants eating it's always junk, carbs and sugar in shocking quantities. 

There's no way that I will accept that that is emotional eating. It is addictive eating. What may have started out as self-soothing has now a ballooned into obsessive and compulsive gorging . I know a little about that. I could eat a pound of cheese at a sitting. Not because I have past trauma. I do and plenty of it but that isn't why I overate. Part of it was because of an antidepressant that turned my limit switches off. I will say I only ate to that extent when I was on Paxil. And I was lonely and missing my husband who worked nights. 

But I wasn't eating to fill a void. I was eating because it tasted good (cheese is another food with addictive properties). And I had stretched my stomach so far that I needed to put a lot in it to make it feel full. And because I was in denial about how much weight I was gaining. And because I just didn't want to stop. I didn't care. 

Now that just may have been me but I don't think so. I think this is a common experience among the morbidly obese. They have been telling themselves that their suffering has made them what they are. Some have believed their abusers that they were worthless. Then they let food take over and control them. They have allowed their addiction to trick them into thinking they have no choice or power. Some have used their past trauma as an excuse to manipulate bully and control others.  Some have made up problems to justify their actions. 

The key in weight management is to address past trauma separately from weight issues. Granted healing one may also heal the other. But continually linking them minimizes both. And it also reinforces the wrong idea that one caused the other. And because people need to see that they and only they can take charge of their lives, health, addiction, eating. And that they really are strong enough and worth doing it. 

If you need to lose weight, do it. Do it now. I'll be your cheerleader! Regardless of what happened before, you control the now. People hurt you. Don't let them continue to. The best retribution is to survive and thrive. In spite of or perhaps because of your past pain, you have the power you need to give yourself the love and care you deserve.


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