My view on overeating and binge eating is very simple; it is about emotional discomfort that you are so used to, you don’t even notice any more. It is not about a-date-gone-wrong-so-i-cry-in-the-bucket-of-ice-cream, it is not about what happened today or even yesterday. It is about a more chronic, ongoing, consistent feeling of slight mental and emotional off-ness.
You probably know the story about a psychologists lecturing to students and holding a glass of water in her hand. Not to tell them about the glass half empty attitudes, but to surprise them with something completely different. How much do you think a glass of water weights, she asked them? Not much, if you hold it for just a short moment. But if you hold it for hours or days, it can seriously hurt and paralyse your arm. It is the same with the worries, she concluded.
So true; emotional discomfort is just like that. It is not about a state of rage about something, but about more subtle sensations; a niggling sense of resentment, a touch of despair, a tingle of guilt – sensations you may be hardly aware of, but after days, weeks or years, they become numbingly heavy and paralyse your life.
Sensation of guilt, foe example, can be a serious burden if carried with you every day. It may be buried behind the numb wall of ‘I am not thinking about it because it is too painful’ defiance, but don’t let yourself be fooled. It is there with you, every day, day in and day out.
If you recognise the thoughts are there, you will start noticing them. Images and thoughts coming for brief seconds, many, many times a day. Fleeting flashes of memories of something you did, something you said, something that feels unforgivable, pop into your thinking triggered by millions of random things, names, images, sounds, colours. They are so brief you hardly notice them, even though they are frequent enough to make you hurt inside.
These brief flashes of memories, the images your brain presents to you, the words, the past ‘mistakes’, bombarding you all day every day, make you feel flat and tired. They throw you out of balance. They make your body heavy and tense, and eventually make you numb. You had to protect yourself from this constant bombardment – the same way your arm would eventually become numb from a glass of water, just to spare you the agony of feeling your seized muscles. So you switch off from feeling the emotional discomfort.
But…I hardly ever think about it, you may say. Consciously, yes. Because you become so used to it, so accustomed to heaviness inside. You learnt to believe that being exhausted is just a normal state of being. You learnt to believe that occasional rage is simply your PMS talking.
But your eating doesn’t lie. It points a finger at something, a pattern inside of you and wants you to be kinder to yourself. Not by reciting affirmations in front of a mirror, but by freeing yourself from the guilt. It wants you to let go of all the beliefs, ideas, judgements and ways of explaining the past that hurt you. It wants you to take control. Not of the eating, but of the emotions. Because you can.
There is no other reason and no other way that works. It may take a bit of effort, it may take a bit of time, but unless you find a way to put the glass of water back on the table, the pain and numbness will not go away.