Emotional eating is about being hungry from the heart and not the stomach. Trusting food can be safer than trusting people. Loving food can be safer than loving people. Food never rejects you, food never leaves you, food never gets angry with you, food never dies. Food is the only relationship where we get to say when, where, and how much. No other relationship complies with our needs so absolutely!
Eating is a relationship, a relationship that can be either nurturing or abusive, supportive or neglectful, nourishing or punishing. Patterns of emotional eating often develop from the early patterns of loving in our family. If we have been hurt by the people we love, we hurt ourselves with food. Emotional eating becomes protection from pain.
In this way, eating disorders are really about our problems in human relationships. Detouring our need for love, connection, security, and intimacy through food is a way of bypassing our need for human sustenance.
People with eating disorders seek gratification through bingeing, purging, or starving - rather than connection with people. Food, after all, is completely trustworthy and more compliant than any other relationship can be. It doesn’t abandon, reject, or laugh at us, and it is always available when WE say so. We get to say when, how much, and where without having to consult with anyone but ourselves!
When we binge, purge, or starve, we become totally self-sufficient and do not have to rely or depend on others. We try to become invulnerable because "a rock feels no pain. And an island never cries." Only when we stop this emotional eating do we discover just how needy and vulnerable we really are, and that can be scary.
Healing an eating problem means learning to turn to people for nurturing rather than to our secret relationship with food. Psychotherapy is a powerful channel for this healing. In therapy we develop a partnership with another human being who is trained to help us unravel the inner reasons why we have made trusting food safer than trusting people.
The key point is that every person’s eating problem is as unique as a fingerprint. Therefore, everyone’s healing journey is unique as well. Diets alone may not work because they don’t help people resolve the emotional issues that fuel their eating problems. Psychotherapy alone may not work because learning about your emotional issues doesn’t necessarily help you learn the behavior of eating more consciously.
So, is there hope? Can people heal from emotional eating problems? What works best is a blend of psychotherapy plus behavioral therapy. In the behavioral therapy, a client learns to structure his or her eating, examine and change destructive eating habits, and develop strategies to eat more consciously and healthfully. Through the psychotherapy, emotional eaters break through the bonds of depression, anxiety, or grief that have kept them stuck. Psychotherapy also helps clients to separate their food from their feelings so that they may learn other nourishing ways of comforting and soothing themselves beyond food. Isolation with pastry needs to be replaced by intimacy with people!
Healing an emotional eating problem is about reclaiming the vitality of our inner selves that has been hidden by our consuming relationship with food. It is about cultivating a deeply rich relationship with our inner self, our hunger for food and our hunger for life.
True healing begins when we learn to sink our teeth into LIFE, not into excess food!