Compulsive Overeating

"The Rebellion of Eating"

"You, the compulsive eater, feel like a hopeless case. You have spent the better part of your life trying to change your shape-- dieting, scolding yourself, taking laxatives, forcing yourself to throw up--and your efforts have consistently failed. You live in a fat-phobic society, doomed by what you regard as your lack of willpower.

We, however, don't see you as a hopeless case at all, and we don't regard your lack of willpower a lack...we consider your eating in response to the restraints of a diet a fight-back reponse indicative of your strength of character. You resist even your own attempts to deprive yourself of what you need.

When we spoke earlier about diets we said that they were really a form of punishment for having an 'unacceptable' shape. If you are fat or feel fat, you have absorbed the message that you are unacceptable and that if you lose weight you will become acceptable. You've spent years going through the motions of one diet or another in an apparent effort to look the way people say you should look, but you've never succeeded. One way to regard you inability to lose weight is to see it as your refusal to buckle under to discriminatory standards of acceptability.

From this perspective, your failure to lose your fat has been your way of saying, 'I want to be accepted as I am.' Every time you've gone on a diet to gain acceptability, you have binged and therby said, 'I will not submit to negative judgments.' You have, in other words, stood your ground despite exteme social pressure to do otherwise. To be sure, you suffer from your excess weight and your addiction to food, but you have not changed your shape nor have you deprived yourself of food. Your unwillingness to do so represents your unwillingness, on one level, to accept the indictment of this culture. More important, it represents your insistence that you will continue to use food to calm yourself until you no longer need to do so.

Unfortunately, you, as a product of our culture, don't appreciate your stance for what it is. Our praise probably seems strange and untrustworthy to you. Despite your consistent refusal to give up food, you have not allowed yourself to feel at all good about who you are. Quite the reverse. At the very same time that you refuse to change yourself into an acceptable form, you look at yourself with self- reproach and self-loathing, call yourself names, and consider yourself a failure.

You're fat and eating symbolize your unwillingness on one level to accept a cultural indictment, which you have, on another level, internalized. You caught in a bind in which you cannot possibly feel good about yourself.

It is upsetting, but understandable, that you continue to share the prevailing view that eating and fat are bad. It is remarkable, however, that you have had the strength to stand up to that viewpoint and continue eating. As a matter of fact, each time you break a diet with a binge, we see it as the healthy part of you saying 'no more'! Every time you eat, you are resisting the contempt that underlies your efforts to control your eating and your weight. Contempt and restriction foment resentment and rebellion. You are, in effect, a rebel with the healthy impulse to eat and soothe yourself as best you can when you feel troubled."

Beyond Rebellion

"We understand that you don't see yourself as a rebel, but try the definition on for size. We think it fits. We think that buried under your layers of self-contempt is not a thin person wanting release, but a rebel demanding to be heard and understood. You the hopeless case feel out of control and despondent because you you've bought the line that you're a failure at the idealized task of body shaping. But you the rebel are a success. You break the rules and assert your right to eat what you want and look as you do. The compulsive eater is, in an interesting way, a rebel in constant protest against what has, by now, become her own imposition of cultural standards and judgments.

Unfortunately, the effectiveness of your rebellion has been limited. Your continuous naysaying represents a reaction rather than real freedom. You are told to diet and lose weight. You do it for a while and they say 'NO', I will not live under these restrictions.' Then the scenario repeats. In order to break into the cycle you will have to go beyond reacting, beyond saying no. Eventually you must find something affirmative to replace your no. You will have to articulate a better plan. A rebellion without a plan for the furture is ineffective and leads to anarchy.

Before you can make a plan, however, you must get out from under your internalized contempt. Although the social pressure to look and eat a certain way is extreme, your own versions of these cultural dictates are far more cruel and insidious. You no longer need anyone to remind you that you are bad for not being thin for using food the way you do. Your own voice is far more contemptuous than those which surround you.

You are probably not fully aware of all the ways in which you've internalized the cultural contempt for eating and flesh. Your rebellion against these attitudes has been unconscious. As you gradually become aware of how you treat and talk to yourself, it will be helpful to recognize three truths. First, that binging is a reasonable reponse to the restrictions of dieting. Second, that your unwillingness to give up food and buckle under to the pressures of our culture represents a rebellion rooted in self-respect. And third, that food has been a friend, a source of comfort to you, over the years.

When you stop condemninag yourself for eating and, instead, start observing your behavior, you will discover a number of interesting elements about your reaching for food compulsively. We see your eating as an important effort on your part to help yourself".

"The Linguistics of Eating

"If you were to ask a compulsive eater at the moment he reaches for food, 'Why are you eating?', he'd respond, 'I don't know. I just want it.' If you were to ask if the compulsive eater is hungry they might be somewhat confused by the question. Compulsive eaters often have lost touch with what physical hunger is and feels like.

Indeed, for the compulsive eater, eating is rarely triggered by feelings of physiological hunger; instead, compulsive eaters eat when they feel discomfort. Most often, compulsive eaters do not know what, specifically, is causing their discomfort. They often do not get to the point of experiencing the discomfort that triggers their eating. What they do experience is a need to eat, and they invariably feel fat, that is, angry with themselves, after a moment of eating-- the moment of peace--has passed.

The compulsive eater, as he or she moves from unlabeled discomfort to eating to self-contempt, is making a kind of translation. But instead of translating from English to French the way a linguist might, compulsive eaters translate feelings that make them uncomfortable into feelings of fat. You are probably familiar with this process.

Whenever you eat compulsively, you are translating a nonspecified discomfort into a concern about eating and body size. If someone were to ask you after an eating episode what your problem was, you'd say it was your eating or your weight--and that's what you would believe-- but such is not the case. Your real problem is your inability to sit with whatever is troubling you and speak about it in its own language. Rather than face your problems and explore them, you eat. Once you have eaten, you make a translation from the language of feelings to the language of fat.

After you've eaten you feel fat. You don't like feeling fat, but it has its advantages. First of all, it's a familiar old problem. Second, the problem of fat appears to be easily solved. As long as you regard your problem as one of fat, you can continue to believe that it can be dieted away, or controlled, to some extent for that matter.

Popular wisdom has it that people who are hooked on food are set on destroying themselves. We believe quite the opposite, that each time compulsive eaters reach for food they are feeling uncomfortable, whether or not they know it, and are attempting to help themselves. We regard these efforts at self-help, regardless of their effectiveness, as life-saving devices deserving of great respect."

The source of this piece is: the book "Overcoming Overeating" by Jane R. Hirschmann and Carol H. Munter.

Sexual Abuse and Compulsive Eating

It has certainly been and it remains my experience as a survivor that in times of great pain, loss, flashbacks and the virtually endless miriad of sexual abuse issues in my life that I do compulsively eat to in attempting to comfort or soothe myself. This is a long-established pattern in my life. Many, many survivors indeed have compulsive eating issues, and the all too often weight problems that result. Speaking for myself, there is much to the size equals safety theory, as well as the notion that since society in general looks down so harshly on fat people that to be a fat person is to be given space and to be more of less left alone. There is a tremendous amount of pain in this cycle. The main thing to be aware of here as you read this is that if you compulsively eat and you are fat and you are a survivor of sexual abuse you are certainly not alone. This in itself may not be very comforting but there is hope to change this. I am currently on the negative side of the cycle, compulsively eating more in frantic attempts to help myself out of pain while at the same time gaining weight. I have been in this before, gained over 100 pounds and managed to lose 70 of it. I kept the 70 pounds off until recently. With more issues presenting themselves in my healing journey and culminating in more realizations/ memories and much more pain I am again gaining. Please know that if you are in this situation also you and I are trying to help ourselves. Albeit not in the most productive way, however, there are things we can do to help ourselves. Some of these things will be discussed in pages I will be adding very shortly.

In the meantime a very paramount reality for anyone who is fat is that it is not a circumstance in which one has no value, or in which one is not loveable. We are who we are no matter what the size of the body may be. We need to strive to know this, strive to believe this, and strive to claim and own this! We have suffered enough already, we have been shamed and shamed, please hold your head up and do not allow yourself to be further shamed by anyone, including yourself!

© A.J. Mahari (soul)

An UpDate-Sept 1998

In recent months, since the above was written here, I have learned a tremendous amount about letting go, grieving and I have done both countless times as I peel through the layers of issues. Regarding the overeating though, I have made major progress. Most of it has come from one major source, my learning to like, and then to love myself.

I believe strongly in the mind-body connection. When we are emotional distress we often reach out for food to seek a "physcial" answer. There is a sense of control and even power that goes with this, to some degree. I have come to know, though, that reaching out for food to soothe myself is really more about me NOT being in control than it is about me being in control. I have had fairly decent success with keeping weight off and not gaining much, but, the eating when not hungry, and patterned night time eating continues, to this day. I guess there are times when I feel "less than" because it seems that food is my master, and I am its slave. I am now embarking upon an attempt to eat to live, rather than continuing to live to eat. I have found that exercise often will off-set weight gain, however, I am now looking beyond that to the issues of the benefits of eating as healthy as possible.

Each of us has a responsibility to our own self-care to address these issues in our lives as best as we can, being kind and gentle with ourselves. I do not believe that we are all meant to be the same the size. I also do not believe that thinner is better necessarily, or that anyone should ever be discrimminated against or made fun of for being bigger than average.

When all is said and done it is up to you how you want to be. It is true enough that sometimes when people reach higher weights even lifestyle and eating habit changes do not always produce the weight loss hoped for. Most important in all of this is to do your best and to truly love yourself for who you are, the way you are, no matter what size you are.

© A.J. Mahari (soul)

An Up Date- October 1999

Though I have grown much, healed much and changed much I still find that I have a ways to go in the emotional-eating department. I am 5'3" and right now I am around 220 pounds. At times I feel frustrated by this. However, for the most part, as I've seen my weight go up and up and up and down and down and back up in this past year I have been able to maintain a fairly strong sense of myself and of being gentle to and with myself with my size.

It has become obvious to me that no matter what I try to impose upon myself there are two factors I have to come to terms with. One is genetics. I don't know to what degree I can expect to ever be "average" let alone thin. The other thing is that emotionally I want to be fat. This emotional reality is something that I don't think I've totally worked through yet.

If you are fat I encourage you to think as I am thinking. Whether you want to be smaller or not, first get okay with the fact that you are fat. Use the word, fat. Re-claim it. Take it back. There is NO SHAME in being fat. You are NOT a FAT person, you are a person, who just happens to be FAT! Society wants us to think there is but there only can be if we allow it. I am not ashamed of myself. I am fat. The fact that I am fat only tells you that I have a larger body. It does not tell you about all of my other attributes, strengths and weakness. The same holds true for someone who is thin. Their being thin doesn't tell us anything else about them. Many people think that fat people are different. No! We are not. We are people who are fat. We are larger people. That's all.

The most important thing I have discovered in my journeys up and down and back up the scale is that what matters most is that I love myself, esteem myself and take the best care of myself that I can. So at this juncture I accept being fat. I accept that being fat is a part of who I am. And I accept the size and shape of anyone else I know, be that very big, big, average or smaller.

Aside from the fact that I do not eat well-balanced meals regularly (which is part of my self-care I am still working to improve) I am still mired in a pattern of night-time eating that dates all the way back to my being sexually abused. There is no doubt that I am fat because I have been shaped by this experience. I am still being shaped, quite literally, by it today. Though I have moved out of the flashback and constantly being triggered experiences into a more healed and peaceful, accepting place I still feel compelled to eat at night. It is easier to sleep and to feel emotionally safe if I go to bed on a full stomach. Often I don't eat much during the day. I usually begin to eat in the late afternoon and then have dinner. I snack in the evening and again before going to bed.

There is a perceived safety in being fat in our world which need not make sense if only those of us who are fat could be seen as just who we are instead of fat firstly and who we are secondly.

Esteem yourself no matter how fat you are; and remember that the negative things people say to those of us who are fat are truly the problem of those who say them and not those of us who are fat. Live your life for yourself. Live your life now. Live your life today. Do not put off one more minute of doing this or that because you are fat. Do what you want to do now, at the size that you are. If you can't do everything that you want to do because you size is limiting you then find something that you can do and do it well.

So that's my up-date for this year, I guess. If you are reading this and you are not comfortable with your size please check my Email Lists page There you will find, among other lists, one called F.A.T. (Finally Accept This) and one for lesbian women called Amazon Rainbow of Size.

In order to work to change the way in which we are viewed in and by society it is up to each and every one of us to walk, talk and be proud of who we are. We must refuse to allow our size or amount of fat to define who, what and why we are. Be who you are. Be proud of who you are. It takes all kinds....and it takes all sizes to make this world go 'round.

Get okay with being fat. Whether or not it changes you need to learn to be okay with exactly who you are now. I know I am. I have been teased and likely will be again. There are people who just do that. Don't let those people change one minute of your life experience. Don't take in what others need to throw out.

A.J Mahari © Sunday October 17. 1999 and was last up-dated February 17, 2005

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