We are the most weight conscious society in the world and also the most obese and eating disordered. When deciding which started the other, keep in mind that the American obsession with weight predates the epidemic of obesity and eating disorders by at least a decade.
Although diets have been around since Adam and Eve had to restrict their choice of desserts, our national awareness of weight control didn’t really pick up speed until the 1960s. Within a couple of decades it grew to its current level of obsession.
Americans think about food more than any other people in the world, including the hungry and starving. (The brain actually stops fantasizing about food in periods of starvation.) We digest more information about food and diets and see more images of food in the media and the environment in general than the rest of the people on the planet. This continued focused attention on food and weight can only increase the unconscious motivation to overeat.
I first became interested in this topic while working with victims of abuse, who, in addition to difficult recovery from abusive relationships, often began to overeat or binge. The diets and weight management programs they undertook inadvertently devalued them and made it difficult for them to recover emotionally by marketing certain myths about “emotional eating.”
The truth about emotional eating
Experts seem to agree that “emotional eating” is the nemesis of weight control, the number one reason it’s so hard to lose weight and much harder to keep it off. The thousands of weight management programs that have come and gone in recent years have created certain weight management myths, particularly emotional eating, that obscure the true nature of both emotion and motivation to eat. The following are some that we need to purge from our consciousness.
Myth #1: Emotional eating is different from other types of eating.
All food is emotional, driven by a stream of unconscious emotions. Any attempt to eliminate the emotion of eating will increase the unconscious motivation to eat foods that are more emotionally charged with high sensory content. That’s why substituting chocolate for broccoli always fails, although this strategy could work if truffles were invented to fill the shortage of vegetables.
Trying to eliminate the emotion of eating simply fills your stream of unconscious everyday emotions with “deprivation motivations,” a desire to get as much as you can while you can, because the supply is limited or off-limits. Remember, Adam and Eve were forbidden just one small piece of fruit; Compare that to the list of things we can’t eat.
Since we can’t eliminate the emotion of eating, sustainable weight control depends on which sets of emotions motivate you. The choice is between core wounds and core value.
core hurts to eat tries to avoid feeling ignored, unimportant, guilty, devalued, disrespected, rejected, powerless, inadequate, or unpleasant. The connection between core pains and high-energy, high-sensitivity foods is irresistible. Core wounds cause pain and drain energy; Quick consumption of high-calorie, sensory foods numbs the bread and restores energy for a few minutes.
Eating wounded to the core is always overeating; we know that as soon as we stop, the core pains will worsen and the energy will fade. So we don’t stop, until our body makes us. If central pains are severe and the ability to regulate them is underdeveloped, overeating becomes “food attacks,” making food harmful rather than nourishing, an instrument of harm rather than a means of health, and wellness.
Habitual avoidance of central wounds inevitably breeds a sense of entitlement. If I realize I shouldn’t eat all of this cake (not likely, but that’s another post), I’ll resentfully conclude that it’s so hard to be me, I deserve a treat! Or I’m a mess anyway, so why not have good taste? Eating by right is the purest form of eating core damage.
By the way, nobody eats a whole cake or a quart of ice cream or a box of chocolates. We eat moderate amounts of these things. Then just one or two more bites, then two or three more, and so on, usually faster and faster, always trying to get past the core pain.
Unlike, core value eat it is an expression of self-worth. Instead of focusing on what you can’t have, you focus on building more value in your life. It helps you stop thinking so much about weight and food and start looking at yourself and others with more compassion. As you value yourself more, you automatically value your health and well-being and learn to motivate yourself with “acts of kindness.”
Sounds great. So why don’t we do more? Because we think we’re not allowed to, due in large part to the other myths of emotional eating, which we’ll explore in the next article.