I was sitting with a woman in a lovely sequined dress at a banquet ball, nursing an $8 liquid starburst. She casually asked me what I do for a living, and I told her I treat eating disorders. “It seems that most people have one eating disorder or another–like me for instance, I just can’t seem to lose that last 20lb no matter how hard I try. I wish I knew what my overeating triggers were.”
“Sometimes what triggers us to overeat actually comes from a much deeper place” I explained. “We tend to substitute food for the unmet emotional needs that we either ignore or repress. Our society can make us particularly vulnerable to neglecting ourselves emotionally, and this causes us to chronically overeat. In the U.S., we are way too achievement-focused and we spend a lot of time interacting with non-human technology that is incapable of providing emotional reciprocation or attunement. End result–unmet needs and obesity.”
“My problem isn’t watching too much TV or doing too much computer. I practically can’t stand to spend more than 10 minutes doing those things,” says the lovely sequined lady. “My problem is I can’t seem to sit still, I am always rushing off to take care of something that needs to be done, I feel like my life is just one running ‘to-do list’ that never gets finished. I overextend myself trying to be productive and perform.”
I smiled. “Which leaves not very much time for you to focus on yourself. You fixate on the goals of your life, but neglect the ‘self’ in your life. Your experience is washed away by the achievements, your process is washed away by your outcome. You are constantly running after the finished product and you don’t realize that your ability to be nurtured as a person comes from focusing on the process of being a person. Process means paying attention to what you feel in each moment, attuning to your reactions and your experience, and taking steps to care for your ‘self’. Without this nurturing, your unmet needs will come out sideways. For you this takes the form of overeating.”
“So, I should spend more time nurturing my ‘self’ and less time chasing after my ‘achievements’ and if I do this, I will stop overeating?” she asks.
I replied, “Well, in order to do that you have to understand what you believe about spending time on yourself. Do you consider it wasteful, lazy, irresponsible or selfish to give back to your emotional and experiential being? Maybe you were raised in a family where focusing on feelings and inner needs was considered bad and that all time should be productively spent on achievements. If you can figure out the ways that your own mind is stopping you from giving your ‘self’ access to your time and effort, then you can achieve balance between your ‘self’ and your ‘life’.”
“I always admired my husband for being able to take time for himself, perhaps he can help me to overcome my imbalance and think differently about my lifestyle.” she mused.
I said, “Not only will it help you prevent eating triggers, but it will improve your emotional intimacy in relationships, it will increase your sense of fulfillment, self-understanding, and you will be better equipped to take care of yourself psychologically. After all, there is so much more to you than just your ‘to-do list’!”