Eating Disorder Recovery
Joanna Poppink, MFT
Eating Disorder Recovery Psychotherapist
serving Arizona, California, Florida, Oregon and Utah.
All appointments are virtual.

- Welcome -

If you suffer from an eating disorder now or have in the past, please email Joanna for a free telephone consultation.

240px Jungle path in the Darién GapPeople of all sizes ask me, "Why can't I stop overeating and stick to a diet?"

*pix Your continual overeating can feel like you are lost in the jungle with no path out.

It's an especially poignant question when the person is overweight or obese. She's often dealing with cultural weight stigma, wants to lose weight for her health, her appearance or even her job security. Still she continues to eat more than her body needs for nourishment. Not only does she maintain her weight, she may  be constantly gaining.

If you are asking yourself why you overeat, perhaps some of these possibilities will help you understand your situation and give you hope.

First, please know that you may be living with a treatable condition known as Binge Eating Disorder (B.E.D.) at last recognized in 2013 in the DSM-5.. All people who are overweight do not have BED. All people who have BED are not overweight. I'll provide *B.E.D. information at the end of this  article.

Let's look at some of the possibilities that may cause you to overeat on a regular basis.

Soothing, Comfort and Biological Imperative

You may overeat: 

1.     to soothe and comfort yourself when you cannot tolerate your feelings. When you are frightened, angry, sad or lonely you may reach for ice cream, pop corn, chips or cookies or favorite binge foods to get through some bad hours or days.

2.     You cannot let yourself be aware of an unpleasant reality;

3.     You believe you must present yourself to others in a way that does not match your genuine self. Soothed and made numb by excess food helps you present a false front to others.

4.     You may attempt severe weight loss diets that trigger an overwhelming hunger based on your body experiencing famine conditions. This is an irresistible biological imperative designed to keep you alive. Your metabolism pushes you to return to your previous weight. (see Science of Fat from Biggest Loser article, linked below.)

Overeating as a way of life

If you accept your fears and anxieties as indelible character traits you need to find ways to hold them at bay so you can function. If you lack the ability to care well for yourself when you are stressed or threatened, either because of personal deficits or because the forces in your external world overwhelm you, you will use overeating on a regular basis to maintain your emotional equilibrium.

If you accept your fears and anxieties as indelible character traits then you do not focus on internal strength building and healing. You focus on what soothes or numbs you.

To do this you build overeating into your ordinary day.  

1.     You keep comfort food readily available. 

2.     You schedule alone time to eat while you are watching a video or movie. 

3.     You know restaurants and fast food places that will supply you with comfort and numbing foods.  

4.     You know where to buy the food you can eat while you are driving.  

5.     You limit your social contacts so you have private time to overeat whenever you want. 

This last is particularly telling because you are making arrangements to binge eat before you have your emotional need.  You know the urge will come and plan to be prepared with privacy and the binge foods of your choice. 

You are not being weak. You are using your intelligence and awareness to prepare for what you consider to be inevitable unbearable feelings. You overeat to compensate for feelings you can't bear in order to keep yourself as pain free and stable as possible..

False Promise

You may overeat before an imminent stressful situation, especially if you think you will be inadequate to the task ahead.  Eating pizza or peanut butter sandwiches or other high calorie, high fat dense foods can seem to meet your anxiety with a feeling of solidity and calm.  But when you look carefully at the experience, you may find that you are distracted with the promise of calm while you are actually chewing and swallowing.  The real soothing and calm you want doesn't come.  That's why you have to keep eating. In your experience, the food promises but doesn't deliver until you are engorged and numb.

Stress oblivion

You may not be aware of your various experiences of stress that trigger your overeating. You may not be aware that your eating is in response to your stress if you don't know you are stressed.

This situation can lead to an answer to your question, ""Why can't I stop overeating and stick to a diet?" 

If you are oblivious of your stress you may eat the calories you need to create the body bulk you need .  You build and maintain a barricade between your sensitive being and a harsh stressor you can't bear. While the overeating and the additional bulk on your frame creates health issues for you, your intent is self-care for peace of mind so you can function in life. 

The paradox, as you know from your own experience, is that what you do to care for yourself also undermines your mental and physical health. 

When you overeat during a strict diet regime your body is rebelling against starvation and seeks to keep alive by devouring available food.  You feel out of control and eat more than ever. This is not your failure. This is the false promise of a diet that sets you up for weight cycling. See The Science of Fat below in the recommended links.

Your Way Out of Overeating

Your way out of overeating is to find your way to your healing path. Your goal is not a diet.  You goal is to develop  the psychological and emotional - perhaps political and economical - resources to care for yourself in a way that makes your overeating unnecessary.

When you find yourself eating when you are not hungry you can use your situation as a signal to explore what is triggering your eating, especially your overeating. Stress of some kind is at work.

The first step is to awaken your mind and spirit  to the possibility that a different way of living is possible for you. If you can do that you can let yourself be more aware of opportunities that suggest to you a new way of living. Help is available. Treatment is available.

Even a tiny bit of awareness that leads to a tiny new step can be the beginning of a genuinely new, healthier and more satisfying life.

* Overeating and Binge  Eating Disorder are not synonymous. Symptoms of B.E.D. that must be present are:

  1. Regularly eating much more food than most people would under  similar circumstances.
  2. Feeling you are out of control while binging.
  3. Having strong negative feeling about your binge eating.
  4. You binge eat a minimum of once a week for three months
  5. You do not purge or over-exercise

Three or more of these symptoms must also be present to qualify for B.E.D. diagnosis

  1. You eat very fast.
  2. You continue to eat when you are no longer hunger.
  3. You eat large amounts of food when you are not hungry.
  4. You feel shame, regret, or sorrow after you binge eat.

Sites that may be of help

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA)

THE SCIENCE OF FAT: After ‘The Biggest Loser,’ Their Bodies Fought to Regain Weight

Weight Cycling...Facts About "Yo-Yo" Dieting

Consequences of Weight Cycling: An Increase in Disease Risk?

Weight cycling during growth and beyond as a risk factor for later cardiovascular diseases: the 'repeated overshoot' theory.

Yo-yo effect

Joanna Poppink, MFT, Los Angeles eating disorder recovery psychotherapist

*pix  On the Colombian side near Panamanian border.
Date 13 March 2013, photo by Päivi & Santeri
This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Päivi & Santeri Kannisto. This applies worldwide.

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