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Roger Gould, M.D.  
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Specialties: Mental Health, Wellness, emotional eating

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3 Reasons You Use Food to Punish Yourself

Jun 28, 2012 - 7 comments
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emotional eating

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overeating

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binge eating

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Overweight

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Obesity

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Roger Gould



Using food as a reward is a common theme for emotional eaters. On the flip side, however, people also overeat as a form of punishment. Using food, whether as a source of comfort or as a hostile act towards yourself or others, is still emotional eating.

Do you eat to hurt yourself?

Many overeaters have reported that they ate to punish themselves. It was an act of self-hatred. "I found myself eating ten Twix bars because I hated myself so much and it was a way to get back at myself," someone once shared. Food, especially in excessive quantities, can hurt us. No different than the person that cuts themselves, binging can be a way for overeaters to inflict pain upon themselves.

Are you punishing anyone in your life by overeating or staying overweight?

Another common theme is overeaters who eat to prove (usually to a parent or a spouse) that they can't be controlled. One man who had harbored a long-standing resentment towards his wife made sure that he didn't lose the weight she wanted him to lose-by eating an ice-cream sundae every night on his way home from work.

It is normal to resist being dominated by another person, but it doesn't really make sense for overeaters to put their own health in jeopardy out of spite.

Are you fed up with a society that expects you to be too thin and toned?

In a more global way, perhaps our overeating and obesity epidemic is a grand scale way of punishing a society that expects us to be perfect. Overeaters may get so down on themselves, believing that they'll never live up to the ideal, that they abandon all effort entirely.

If you are using food as a form of punishment, you may want to ask yourself why. Is it really getting you the result you want? Not just in terms of how your body looks and feels, but is it getting you the love and acceptance you want from a partner or parent or even yourself?

We all deserve to eat well, feel good and have fulfilling relationships. Overeating as a form of punishment, and/or reward, is not a recipe for a healthy and happy lifestyle.

Do you use food as a form of punishment?

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by Jaquta, Jul 05, 2012
I can use both deprivation and over-eating as punishment.  Deprivation to me feels like attacking probably more my physical failure for not being able to sustain a healthy diet and lifestyle.  Where I don't deserve to eat.
Over-eating can stuff negative emotions but it can also attack me and my sense of self worth.  Ultimately I treat myself like a piece of trash.  It can be hard to treat something respectfully and 'nicely' when it is not worth anything.

My cancer has returned and I have to have a mastectomy with axillary clearance.  Women have said that I should have a reconstruction due to it making me feel sexual and sensual and to please others.
I don't want to use an implant or sacrifice my back muscle.  I have chosen to go with the least socially acceptable option and have no reconstruction and wear no external prothesis.  I refuse to apologise to society for something I didn't choose.  Does it really matter what we look like on the outside?  Definitely tired of the too fat, too thin, too this, too that.

Society and also our perceptions of societies values and beliefs can undermine us and our confidence in ourselves.

I think that it's important that we live healthy lifestyles for us and our own well-being but I don't think that these should be extreme.  Too much negative internal chatter should be looked into.  A life-time of negative self-talk is exhausting.
I'm going to have an ice-cream or cream donut for my birthday next week and enjoy it.  Maybe I'll have both?  Life is too short for constant recriminations.

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by synikk, Jul 06, 2012
i definitely eat all the wrong things for some kind of contentment.  i have a wide array of horrific health problems and still no diagnosis.  ive been gluten free for a year and that eases my digestive aches a little but i still eat all the wrong things instead of trying to stick to health diets and juice fasting for optimal health.   i simply cannot do it.  when im in pain and theres no comfort at all, food becomes the only source of escape and gratification.  i dont think people who are healthy can comprehend how much a sick/dying person REQUIRES comfort food.  its so impossible to get over the craving for something that tastes satisfying... and therefore kills you faster.  i truly understand now why people die of disease... they simply cannot change themselves.  unless they have a ton of money and a ton of support i dont think its really possible for the majority of people to save themselves.  and diet is probably the core primary factor.

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by divageezer, Jul 10, 2012
My eating the wrong things stared at the grocery store where I seemed to shop like a 12 year-old. My hubby and I were junk food junkies so the house was always well supplied with every over-salted, over-sugared snack in the world. Sometimes I suspect that we were food-suicidal. We know better: he is a pathologists' assistant (does autopsies and surgical specimen) and I have taught health for years. I also know that when people are psychologically or physically ill they want what they want when they want it. When I was dealing with a dread disease I ate my weight in chocolate every week...it felt and tasted good. I could not agree with synikk more about the need for comfort food.

My solution to this situation was to start small: I make a meal plan for the week, make a shopping list, eat before I leave home so I shop when I'm full and in a good mood. It's easier for us to stay on a healthier road when we have junk food and some fruit, snack sized veggies, and other healthy grabbables in the house.

Jaquta hit the nail on the head. Society's unrealistic body image and ageist messages have a horrific effect on America's women. When we choose not to comply with the norm we seem to become invisible and/or avoided. To compound the problem the diet gurus and huge multi-billion dollar agriculture industry (both "health" food and "unhealth" food) go from fad to fad with lightening speed. We have to really work at finding out what choices are smart for us by culling through information and misinformation. And now that drug companies can advertise their wares we are really on sorta-information overload.

Healthy self-talk is the only way to stay sane as we navigate our image and cash-driven society. We can "script" ourselves into health without the guilt trip that has been burned into our consciousness. I write and memorize my scripts after I have clearly defined my goals. The third step is to recognize any brain chatter that is not taking me to my goals and shut it down with MY scripts. Then I add a healthy dose of self-forgiveness when I slip into old habits. I live one day at a time...that's really all I have.  




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by Jaquta, Jul 10, 2012
Most of us know what we should be doing to achieve a healthier lifestyle.  I think if we are able to break it down into more manageable steps we are more likely to succeed.  Incremental changes are OK and are often more sustainable.

I use to fall into the trap of buying health books for my mother.  Aitkens.  Dr Phil.  etc, etc.  I can see now that I was just perpetuating her and my problems.  I need to let her take responsibility for her own issues too.

I went through a bad patch recently where I ate heaps and put on loads of weight.  I found the lack of communication and boundaries around health referrals extremely stressful.  Multiple urgent referrals getting lost.
Then I panicked because I have surgery soon and I feel pretty gross.  Fat and frumpy.

Being told that I have a 1 in 2 chance of dying in the next five years hasn't been as big as an incentive as I thought it might to make healthier choices for myself.  Maybe post surgery and once family go back.

My sister ended up in a health clinic on Saturday due to being dehydrated.  Mum had a seizure yesterday and ended up in ICU.  I just want everybody gone and everything back to normal.

I splashed out and bought a special loaf of bread yesterday and had a salad sandwich for my birthday.  I had a half a cream donut (which ended up being my dinner).

Funny that I remember the day for the fire engine and ambulance coming up our rickety old drive and the compassion that people showed my mother.  It's nice to know that that still exists.  Makes me feel less ?sad.  It's quite filling and enriching.

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by AussieItchyGirl, Jul 14, 2012
Cancer loves sugar my sweet, maybe stop feeding IT.  I can not believe that anyone who gets told they have cancer, stays with the doctors who have no idea about it. People, there ARE answers, go find them.

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by RunningGirl85, Jul 16, 2012
Synnick, I see this with my mom.  She's been having a lot of health issues, and she tends to eat for comfort.  She's been overweight for awhile.  Now she HAS to lose weight in order to get a lung transplant (she also used to smoke, and it took her awhile to get away from THAT), though she's been trying to change her eating habits for awhile.  I think it's finally hit her that she will never get healthier if she doesn't make the change for herself.  

I've also realized people really do need to realize what they are doing to themselves FOR themselves, and nobody else.  I've found it easier to maintain my own weight (lowest I've been at since before I hit puberty) when I'm trying to stay fit for my own purposes, rather than trying to please someone else/society/etc.  Back when I did it for other people, I had some issues with my eating that I don't care to relive (binge/purge cycle is not fun).  I don't have the desire to do either of those anymore, and have not for some time.  

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by Jaquta, Jul 21, 2012
I think that many of us can be naive when it comes to health.
I think that I probably have a tendency to think in black and white and punish myself for not meeting my own expectations.  That can take the form of over-eating, under-eating, over-exercising or not exercising.
I think the secret to over-coming that is to learn to love and accept yourself.

I have seen programs where people who smoke or are over-weight don fat suits, etc and walk up a flight of stairs.  In that moment the situation and consequences seem real.  Outside of the situation they often don't.
With my diagnosis I initially started to bargain.  If you let me live I'll eat healthily, exercise, better manage my stress, etc, etc.  After the fear and living with the 'dangerousness of the situation' I started to feel safe after medical testing and intervention.  I sometimes forget that doctors can't fix everything or can't make everything right.
I tell myself that I'll clean my act up after surgery, that I'll do everything right then.  I think for me I'm still in a state of denial where I think that this isn't happening to me, this doesn't feel real.

I guess I still need to figure out for myself how to love and appreciate myself.  Maybe then I will treat myself with the love, compassion and respect that I deserve.  One of my greastest fears is that I will learn this lesson too late.

The psychiatrist I am currently seeing specialises in addiction and smokes.  Education and experience don't always seem to help us.  Maybe we just need to give ourselves permisison to listen to our bodies and do what is best for us at any one time.  I think too often we fight with ourselves, a bit like a tug of war, maybe fighting with our own conscience.

I guess it's time for me to stop waiting for others to change and start making changes myself.  Stop waiting for my parents to love me unconditionally and fill myself with my own unadultered love.

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