Mar 25, 2008
Your doctor told you to lose weight. Are you struggling?
So your doctor says to you that you should lose 10 to 20 pounds. If you are a diabetic, he will tell you that you will reduce the amount of medication you need to control your disease as well as decrease the likelihood of complications. If you have high blood pressure or heart disease, he will tell you that this will take the load off your heart, help you live longer, and many of your symptoms will go away. If you have arthritis or joint pains, he will tell you this is the best way to help yourself.
You are convinced that you should lose weight. If you are worried enough about your health or just plain ready to start taking care of yourself, you will begin a new diet and exercise routine. But if you are like most people who have gone down that pathway it either won't last long or you may make some significant gains, feel better, but then slowly your weight will creep back up again.
But you might not even be convinced that you have to lose weight. You heard the words, you understand the logic, but for some reason known only to you, you decide that you don't really have to lose weight . You give yourself all sorts of excuses like it won't really make any difference, or it's impossible so why even try.
All this is very troubling and very frustrating. We doctors are convinced that controlling your weight is one of the most effective things you can do to prevent chronic heart disease and diabetic complications. Exercise and eating healthy to control your diet is in your immediate control. Yet we find it so difficult to translate the intention of controlling our weight into a new habit of eating healthy. Have you ever asked yourself why?
In this series of blogs I'm going to explain to you what is under the surface of this problem and what you can do to solve it. This is an opportunity to use your mind to directly and profoundly affect your health.
I am still taken aback every time I think of the answer a patient once gave me when I asked her WHY she ate half a dozen donuts. She said, "what else could I do?" She couldn't figure out a better way of dealing with the demands of her 16-year-old daughter. She temporarily “lost her mind.” She was paralyzed. She was unable to think like the intelligent adult that she was.
I started asking other patients the same WHY question, and kept on getting the same kind of answer, in one way or another telling me that the strength of a craving, the lure of a binge, or the power of food over them, was overwhelming, and they too “lost their mind” to food.
Emotional Eating: Blessing or Curse?
I heard more and more people tell me that their mind was taken over by thoughts about food and weight. They told me that their mind was “occupied” by a force they couldn’t understand, and what they wanted as much as weight loss was liberation from this preoccupation. In fact, there are 17 million Americans who have this same mental struggle even though they maintain a normal weight.
So why do YOU eat too much after you have committed to a diet and told yourself you are not going to do that anymore? On one level the answer is simple and obvious. You eat too much when you think you HAVE to use food to reduce your stress level or get away from some uncomfortable feeling or thought because you BELIEVE that you don’t have any other way of doing that. Then food becomes a tranquilizer; an instant, always available, medication that shuts down your mind. At those moments emotional eating is a BLESSING.
But when those moments pass, and you realize you have a bad habit of using food as a tranquilizer TOO often, and you understand that this is the single most sabotaging factor in your weight control struggle that makes you break your diet every time, then you know that emotional eating is a CURSE, and you spend a lot of mental energy beating yourself up.
And if this habit of emotional eating is too embedded in your life, it is even more of a CURSE because on some level you understand that this habit so overloads your mind with obsessive thoughts about food and weight, that you can hardly think of anything else. It is a very bad eating habit that distracts you from vigorously pursuing your own personal development and the betterment of your relationships because it uses up too much mental oxygen. It is the addictive habit that causes binge eating and bulimia.
Control Your Binges
If you have struggled with your weight and quit as many diets as you started you are very familiar with what I have just described. Your problem is that you have not yet decided whether emotional eating is a BLESSING or a CURSE. On one hand you desperately want to control your eating; and on the other hand you want to be able to binge when the craving becomes so strong that you feel helpless and think to yourself, "what else could I do?"
You have a divided self because it is BOTH a blessing and a curse for you. You will be at peace with yourself about food and weight only after you have resolved the divided self conflict within you. If you don't resolve this conflict you won't be in charge of yourself and no matter how successful you are at losing weight by any diet, you'll always be worried about regaining it.
Large scale research on dieters tells us that you are in one of three equally large groups.
1.You only want a quick fix, fast-loss diet which means you would rather go through another cycle of weight loss and regaining than deal with this divided self conflict.
2. You have given up on all diets or weight loss approaches which means you have decided that emotional eating is too much of blessing to ever think of giving it up.
3. You recognize you need to make real lifestyle changes in regard to food which means you recognize emotional eating is more a curse than a blessing and you are looking for ways to resolve this divided self conflict.
I know this conflict very well. As a psychiatrist I have studied this with my own patients, written a book, and then created a program that has been used successfully by over 14,000 people. For those in the third group who are looking for lifestyle change, emotional eating can be controlled if one takes a careful step-by-step approach, at each step learning a critical piece of insight, and eventually replacing the initial helplessness thought "what else could I do" with the in-charge person who says “look at all the other ways I can handle this stress.” Then a new sense of personal power naturally emerges, and the cravings that were so strong in the past, actually disappear.
The discovery I have made is not that there is such a thing as emotional eating. We all know that. The discovery is that there is actually a way to replace the “blessing” of food with much better ways of handling life’s challenges. When you learn that well enough to act on it, your conflict is resolved, and the “curse” is gone; the "occupied" part of your mind is liberated.
In the next series of blog posts, I will tell you how that is happening right now with some of my patients and the members of my ShrinkYourself online program.