Dear Therapist

I’m writing because I have a problem I just can’t solve.  I’m a 18 stone woman and I’ve tried everything to lose weight but can’t do it. 

I lose a couple of stone and then pile it back on. 

When I was younger I was very privileged financially, but my parents were absent and neglectful.  The upshot is I was brought up by a paid nanny who really seemed to love me and the feeling was mutual. 

I can trace my eating to those times when the nanny used to cook for me and take me out for cake and treats, because I tend to use food as a source of comfort.  I like to eat out 3 or 4 times a week and I always feel better when I’m indulging myself.

The problem is, when I stop doing this, I honestly don’t feel life is worth living.  Eating and treating are what make me happy.  I feel that it’s so unfair to have to deprive myself of the thing that makes me happy, in order to lose weight and be healthy.

How can I get out of this trap?

 

Dear Anonymous

First off, I think it’s a great insight that you connect treating yourself to the love your nanny gave you.  A lot of people who are emotional eaters, have similar connections.  Some people are conscious of their reasons for overeating and others not.

The fact that you are aware of at least some connection between feeling love and eating food, is going to help you break the connection more quickly.

You seem to have a current program that food equals love and nurture.  As a therapist I deal with a lot of people who have weight or eating issues and have all kinds of complex relationships with food.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of changing habits, upskilling in nutritional knowledge and putting a plan in place.

On the other hand, food as a coping mechanism, or a means of filling a void, is more complex.  As an adult you know logically, that food does not equal love, it’s a means of nutrition for the body.  But somehow these connections get made in the brain and they are often subconscious and out of our rational control.

Change has to be tackled on several different levels:

  • Breaking the connection between nurture/love and food.
  • Filling the void from childhood by addressing the emotional insecurities you’re feeling
  • Starting to build connections between happiness/nurture and something that is life-enhancing, rather than life-defeating.
  • Learning more about nutrition and getting a plan for healthy eating
  • Making lifestyle changes and decisions that support your goals

HOW TO TURN THINGS AROUND

You can start with becoming curious about how your thought processes are sustaining your food/love connections.

Become more aware of what you’re thinking whilst you eat.  If you have a big cream cake and you’re devouring it whilst thinking, ‘This is such a treat, I deserve it, I’m pampering myself, I feel better when I eat cake’…then the connection will continue to be strengthened and maintained.  On the other hand if you eat the cake whilst thinking, ‘Right now I’m chewing on fat, cream, sugar and flour and swallowing it down so it settles into fat on my body’….then you will start making new connections in the brain that are more rational and realistic.

Food does NOT equal love, security, nurture or pampering.  It equals only nutrition for the mind and body.  That is a fact.

Now there’s nothing wrong with enjoying food, but when it starts to control you, then it’s best to sever the food/love connection and nip all that in the bud.

Staying conscious and aware is the most powerful thing you can do initially, to change the situation.

  

Raising Your Awareness

Keep a journal and note down your thoughts before, during and after eating

Check in with your emotions and thoughts and figure out what you are feeling (hurt, depressed, bored, scared, lonely, deprived, overwhelmed, sad, worried etc)

Keep a note of events in your life, both big and small and start to see if there are any patterns that lead you to eat more, or eat less etc

Take ‘moments’ in the day to practice new language and thoughts around food. Everyone has a few moments, whether they’re travelling, tying their shoes, waiting for a bus or during the adverts on TV.  Little changes and practice sessions can make a BIG impact on the way your brain takes on new ideas.

Here are some key points to think about

Never deprive yourself – This will set up a war in your head and you won’t win…ever!  That’s why conventional diets based on restriction, don’t work long-term.  The part of the brain that’s being deprived is just quiet for a little while and it’s waiting to pounce when you have a moment of weakness.  Eating little and often works best for most people, but you know your own patterns, so do what’s best for you.  Just make sure you don’t get to the ravenous stage of hunger.  When you reach that point, your imagination fires up and comfort food becomes a big picture in the mind…too hard to resist.

Check your beliefs – The brain is listening all the time to what you tell it.  You can start to reprogram your beliefs in line with reality by sifting out any unhelpful and repetitive thoughts, such as…

  • Everyone is my family is big
  • I CAN’T stop eating junk food
  • I have big bones/dodgy hormones

Some of what you tell yourself may be true. Maybe your genes are prone to weight gain, maybe your hormones or medication has you bloated and hungry.  BUT, even then you can get to optimum weight for your personal circumstances and that is better than being dangerously and depressingly overweight.

Mind your language – The brain is a very literal tool. It takes everything we say as a fact.  Avoid saying things like, ‘I’m famished, ‘I’m starving’, or ‘I could eat a full horse!’.  The brain takes on that idea and when you start to eat, it turns off the natural switch that you’re full…because…it thinks you’re STARVING.

Also mind your language around what you’re telling yourself about food and eating. You already state that, ‘I have a problem I just can’t solve.  I’m a 18 stone woman and I’ve tried everything to lose weight but can’t do it’.  Well the more you keep telling yourself that, then the brain is going to agree and make you act accordingly.

Make a list of all the things you tell yourself about food, eating and yourself and then change them to something that is an OPEN QUESTION.

Questions like:

‘What has worked for me in the past?’.

‘If I COULD do it, what are the actions I would take to reach my goal?’.

When you start to get more realistic, then you can come up with creative ways to overcome the issue.  These types of open questions get the brain working on your side to come up with solutions.

One point I’ll make here, I often use the term weight loss when I’m telling people about my services, but generally I won’t use that term during coaching or therapy unless I have to for the sake of understanding.  LOSS is a negative word and even if it’s coupled with ‘weight’ the brain just hears that there’s something that’s going to be lost and it doesn’t’ like it.  It’s always better to phrase goals in the positive, e.g. ‘Getting slimmer’,  ‘Getting leaner/fitter’, ‘Shedding pounds’, ‘Dropping weight’.

There is so much more involved around the language we use and specific words to avoid, but the above will be a good start for you.

Cut associations – The brain works in terms of pain or pleasure.  It wants to help you, make you comfortable and keep you pain free.  So, when you start glamourizing a pizza and think of it as lovely melting cheese, crunchy base and sweet tomato, it wants you to have that…a LOT.   If you think of pizza as some flour, oil, sour churned milk and plain old tomato, then it’s just a plain old circle of nothing.

See the bigger picture –  You mention ‘being deprived’ when you can’t eat what you want, but let’s check that out.  You’re depriving yourself of so much more when you eat unhealthily…here’s the data on that….

 

Eating Unhealthy Foods Eating Healthy Foods

Comfort and temporary relief from negative feelings or feeling deprived

Feeling like you got away with something (a secret treat)

Less thinking required

Short-term gain (minutes) of feeling better(ish)

 

(all the above are driven by weakness and false beliefs…REALLY)

 

Wearing what you want

Feeling more attractive

Increased mobility

More energy

Higher self-esteem

More freedom

Longer life/Good health

Possibly more love and affection from humans rather than sugar!

  

When you look at the above, ask yourself this question, ‘Which of those columns contain REAL deprivation and which column contains fake deprivation?

There’s no contest….right?

You can turn around your deprivation thinking and start seeing restriction where it belongs.  You’re actually depriving yourself of genuine self-care, nurture and love.

 

Filling The Void

If you don’t have a fulfilled and meaningful life, then there are many steps you can take to get your needs met by connecting to people, nature, interests and finding a strong sense of purpose in the world.  Using food to fill the void is not working. It’s a short-term fix that causes you long term unhappiness. 

A lot of our unhappiness can be traced back to relationships of one kind or another.  Either we didn’t get enough love as children, or we got spoiled, or we don’t connect enough with others, or our intimate relationships are causing us stress that we deny, or our relationship to our own self is atrocious.

If you have these strong connections between love, comfort and food, then it’s basically a relationship issue.  See where you can find this comfort in the love you give to others, the love you receive and most importantly…the love and care you give to yourself.

Never say mean things about yourself, ‘I’m stupid, lazy, the size of a house’…or whatever your current favourites are from your inner critic.  This inner critic deals devastating blows on your self-esteem and will open up the void even further.  Watch out for what it’s saying, take note and then turn it around to something that is nurturing and supportive.  

If you can’t overcome the issue, the it might be helpful to seek professional help  You can certainly check out my Hypno-Fit Program which will go a long way to getting you on the right track.

Then there are the practical steps:

Plan all your meals ahead of time and shop for them

Stay away from temptation and avoid going to restaurants, parties or ANYWHERE you feel out of control.  You can go to these places later when you have a grip on your mind power.

Hang out with people who eat healthily and temporarily avoid people who eat the things that cause you trouble.  This might sound drastic, but ask anyone attending 12 step programs for addictions, and they’ll confirm that the company they keep has to change if they’re going to conquer their issues.  You can always explain to those who matter, that you’re lying low for a while whilst you conquer your food battle.  Anyway, think about that one…it’s your call.

 As you can see, the process mainly starts with your own mind.  What you’re telling yourself is keeping you stuck in the gloom.  If you can start to change what you’re telling yourself, you’ll start to change how you feel and act.

The one idea you might want to revisit is the love and food you got from your Nanny.  Although this is a strong memory for you, with powerful associations, it’s no longer serving you as an adult.

Try some of the strategies outlined above.  You can slowly start to find new ways of FEELING love, comfort and care, without resorting to fat, sugar and flour.

To Your Success

Linda  

Dear Therapist responses are published with the full consent of those who have their problem featured.  It does not replace medical advice or diagnosis.  Please consult your doctor or a mental health practitioner if you have concerns. 

I want to hear from you!  Want some FREE HELP?  Once or twice a month I I select one email to feature here on Dear Therapist.   Submit your issue to me using the button below, and get the chance for some expert eyes on your dilemma.  Your personal details are never featured, neither are names or any information that would reveal your identity.

Linda Bebbington is a psychotherapist & life coach, specialising in beating anxiety, building relationships and overcoming blocks to success.

If you need help to heal or to build a bright & healthy future you can book a free 30 minute consultation HERE

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