• Catherine Chadwick

What's Eating You?

Sometimes I work with someone who tells me how their eating behaviour changed following an upset or some kind or traumatic experience. They will then tell me that they are over it and are no longer bothered by it. At the same time, they are still carrying out the problematic behaviour that brings them along to therapy.

This was evident recently when I was working with someone who compulsively ate junk food. She told me she had put a distressing event in her life behind her and indeed she had some understanding of the motivation of the person who had hurt her. What happened next though was that she started telling me about the part of the event which had really upset her which hitherto she had not mentioned to me. The strength of the tears that followed was enough to tell me we had hit on the real cause of her compulsive eating. When I asked her to rate her distress at the memory of the event on a scale of 1 to 10, without hesitation she told me it was a 10.

Depending on the individual, any emotion can be repressed. It is not uncommon for people to attempt to avoid feeling anger or sadness for example. Some emotions such as embarrassment or humiliation can be particularly trying for us to countenance.

When we have been badly treated or experience something we find hard to process at the time, what will often happen is that we stuff the associated feelings away in an attempt to restore our equilibrium and get on with our lives. That’s why people will often say think they have dealt with an upsetting event - they have lost touch with the unprocessed emotions that accompanied it.

This is how the unconscious mind seeks to protect us - but there is a price to pay. In this case, not only was my client keeping the unpleasant feelings at bay by overeating, but also felt a lack of motivation not only to exercise but also in other areas of her life. This is because keeping things from surfacing uses energy.

How fortunate therefore that several techniques exist that can help process these old, upsetting events in a comfortable way. By doing so, the energy involved in suppressing the emotion is freed up and becomes available for you to use productively and creatively. You feel different - lighter perhaps, more joyful. Most importantly, you take back the power which the incident had over you and you have no need to continue the unwanted eating behaviour; it just falls away.